Lives of Fair and Gallant Ladies/Volume I/Second Discourse (3.)

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TO speak next of the power of sight. Without a doubt, seeing the eyes be the first part to join combat in love, it must be allowed that these do give a very great contentment, whenas they are the means to our beholding something fair and rare in beauty. And by my faith! what thing is there in all the world a man may see fairer than a fair woman, whether clothed and handsomely tricked out, or naked? If clothed, then 'tis only the face you see naked; but even so, when a fair body, of a beauteous shape, with fine carriage and graceful port, stately look and proud mien, is presented to our view in all its charms, what fairer and more delightsome display can there be in all the world? Then again, when you come to enjoy a fair lady, thus fully dressed and magnificently attired, the desire and enjoyment of her are doubled, albeit a man doth see only the face, while all the other parts of the body are hid. For indeed 'tis a hard matter to enjoy a great lady according to all the conveniences one might desire, unless it were in a chamber apart at full leisure and in a secret place, to do what one best liketh. So spied upon is such an one of all observers!

And this is why a certain great lady I have heard speak of, if ever she did meet her lover conveniently, and out of sight of other folk and fear of surprise, would always seize the occasion at once, to content her wishes as promptly and shortly as ever she could. And indeed she did say to him one day, "They were fools, those good ladies of former days, which being fain of over refinement in their love pleasure, would shut themselves up in their closets or other privy places, and there would so draw out their sports and pastimes that presently they would be discovered and their shame made public. Nowadays must we seize opportunity whenever it cometh, with the briefest delay possible, like a city no sooner assailed than invested and straightway captured. And in this wise we do best avoid the chance of scandal."

And I ween the lady was quite right; for such men as have practised love, have ever held this a sound maxim that there is naught to be compared with a woman in her clothes. Again when you reflect how a man doth brave, rumple, squeeze and make light of his lady's finery, and how he doth work ruin and loss to the grand cloth of gold and web of silver, to tinsel and silken stuffs, pearls and precious stones, 'tis plain how his ardour and satisfaction be increased manifold,—far more than with some simple shepherdess or other woman of like quality, be she as fair as she may.

And why of yore was Venus found so fair and so desirable, if not that with all her beauty she was alway gracefully attired likewise, and generally scented, that she did ever smell sweet an hundred paces away? For it hath ever been held of all how that perfumes be a great incitement to love.

This is the reason why the Empresses and great dames of Rome did make much usage of these perfumes, as do likewise our great ladies of France,—and above all those of Spain and Italy, which from the oldest times have been more curious and more exquisite in luxury than Frenchwomen, as well in perfumes as in costumes and magnificent attire, whereof the fair ones of France have since borrowed the patterns and copied the dainty workmanship. Moreover the others, Italian and Spanish, had learned the same from old models and ancient statues of Roman ladies, the which are to be seen among sundry other antiquities yet extant in Spain and Italy; the which, if any man will regard them carefully, will be found very perfect in mode of hair-dressing and fashion of robes, and very meet to incite love. On the contrary, at this present day our ladies of France do surpass all others. 'Tis to the Queen of Navarre[1] they do owe thanks for this great improvement.

Wherefore is it good and desirable to have to do with suchlike fair ladies so well appointed, so richly tricked out and in such stately wise. So have I heard many courtiers, my comrades, declare, as we did discourse together on these matters,

De sorte que j'ai ouï dire à aucuns courtisans, mes compagnons, ainsi que nous devisions ensemble, qu'ils les aimaient mieux ainsi, que désacoutrées et couchées neus entre deux linceuls, et dans un lit le plus enrichi de broderie que l'on sut faire.

D'autres disaient qu'il n'y avait que le naturel, sans aucun fard ni artifice, comme un grand prince que je sais, lequel pourtant faisait coucher ses courtisanes ou dames dans des draps de taffetas noir bien tendus, toutes nues, afin que leur blancheur et délicatesse de chair parut bien mieux parmi ce noir et donnât plus d'ébat.[2]

There can be no real doubt the fairest sight of any in the whole world would be that of a beautiful woman, all complete and perfect in her loveliness; but such an one is ill to find. Thus do we find it recorded of Zeuxis, the famous painter, how that being asked by sundry honourable ladies and damsels of his acquaintance to make them a portrait of the fair Helen of Troy and depict her to them as beautiful as folk say she was, he was loath to refuse their prayer. But, before painting the portrait, he did gaze at them all and each steadfastly, and choosing from one or the other whatever he did find in each severally most beautiful, he did make out the portrait of these fragments brought together and combined, and by this means did portray Helen so beautiful no exception could be taken to any feature. This portrait did stir the admiration of all, but above all of them which had by their several beauties and separate features helped to create the same no less thans Zeuxis himself had with his brush. Now this was as good as saying that in one Helen 'twas impossible to find all perfections of beauty combined, albeit she may have been most exceeding fair above all women.

Be this as it may, the Spaniard saith that to make a woman all perfect, complete and absolute in loveliness, she must needs have thirty several beauties,[3] the which a Spanish lady did once enumerate to me at Toledo, a city where be very fair and charming women, and well instructed to boot. The thirty then are as followeth:

(Translated, for the reader's better comprehension:)
Three things white: skin, teeth and hands.
Three black: eyes, brows and lids.
Three red: lips, cheeks and nails.
Three long: body, hair and hands.
Three short: teeth, ears and feet.

Three wide: chest or bosom, forehead and space betwixt the eyes.
Three narrow: mouth (upper and lower), girth or waist, and ankle.
Three big and thick: arm, thigh and calf.
Three long and fine: fingers, hair and lips.
Three small and delicate: breasts, nose and head.

Making thirty in all.

'Tis not inconceivable nor impossible but that all these beauties should be united all together in one and the same fair lady; but in that case she must needs be framed in the mould of absolute perfection. For indeed to see them all so combined, without there being a single one to carp at and find at fault is scarce possible. I do refer me to such as have seen beautiful women, or will see such anon, and who would fain be heedful in noting the same and appraising them, what they shall say of them. But though they be not complete and perfectly beautiful in all these points, yet will a beautiful woman alway be beautiful, an if she have but the half, and those the chief ones, of the parts and features I have named. For truly I have seen many which had more than the half, and were exceeding fair and very lovable. Just as a wood seemeth ever beautiful in Spring-tide, even though it be not filled with all the little pretty shrubs one might wish for. Yet are there plenty of fine, tall, spreading trees, which by their abundance may very well hide the lack of other smaller vegetation.

M. de Ronsard must pardon me, if he will. Never did his mistress, whom he hath represented as so very beautiful, really attain such perfection, nor any other lady he ever saw in his day or did describe. He calleth her his fair Cassandra, and sure I am she was fair, but he hath disguised her under a fictitious name. And the same is equally true of his Marie, who never bore other name but that, as it is of the first mentioned. Still it is allowed to poets and painters to say and do what pleaseth them,—for instance you will find in the Orlando Furioso wondrous fair beauties portrayed by Ariosto, those of Alcina and of many another fair one.

All this is well enough; but as I have heard a great personage of my acquaintance say, never could plain nature make so fair and perfect a woman as the keen and subtile imagination of some eloquent poet might featly describe, or the pencil and brush of some inspired painter represent. No matter! a man's eyes are ever satisfied to see a beautiful woman of fair, clear-complexioned and well-featured face. Yea! and though it be somewhat brown of hue, 'tis all one; the brunette is as good as the blonde many a time, as the Spanish girl hath it, Aunque io sia morisca, no soy de menos preciar,—"Brown though I be, I am not to be scorned for that." So the fair Marfisa era brunetta alquanto—"was something brown of face." Still must not the brown overset the white too much! Again, a beautiful countenance must be borne by a body fashioned and built to correspond. This doth hold good of little as well as big, but tall stature will ever take first place.

Well, as to seeking out suchlike exquisite points of beauty as I have just spoke of, and as poets have of old depicted, this we may very well dispense with, and find pleasure enough in our common and everyday beauties. Not that I would say common in any ill sense, for verily we have some so rare that, by my faith! they be better far than all those which your fantastic poets, and whimsical painters, and lyrical extollers of female charms could ever delineate.

Alas! the worst of it is this. Whenas we do see suchlike fair beauties and gracious countenances, we do admire and long for the fair bodies to match, for the love of the pretty faces. But lo! in some cases, when these come to be revealed and brought to light, we do lose all appetite therefor. They be so ugly, spoiled, blotched, disfigured and hideous, they do give the lie direct to the face. This is one of the ways we men are oft sore taken in.

Hereof we have a good example in a certain gentleman of the Island of Majorca, by name Raymond Lulle,[4] of a very good, wealthy and ancient family. This nobleman by reason of his high birth, his valour and merit, was appointed in the prime of his years to the governorship of the said island. While in this office, as will oft happen to Governors of provinces and cities, he did grow enamoured of a beautiful lady of the island, one of the most accomplished, beautiful and ready-witted women of those parts. Long and eagerly did he court her; and at length, seeing he was ever demanding the reward of his exertions, the lady after refusing as long as ever she could, did one day give him an assignation. This he did not fail to keep, nor did she; but presently appeared thereat, more beautiful than ever and more richly apparelled. Then just as he thought the gates of Paradise were opening for him, lo! she stepped forward and did show him her breast and bosom all covered over with a dozen plasters, and tearing these off one after other and angrily tossing them to the ground, did exhibit a horrid cancer to him. So with tears in her eyes, she did rehearse all her wretchedness and her affection to him,—and asked him, was there then such mighty cause why he should be so much enamoured of her, making him so sad and dismal a discourse, that he did presently leave her, all overcome with ruth for the grief of this fair lady. Then later, after making supplication to God for her restoration to health, he did give up his office, and turned hermit.

Afterward, on returning from the Holy Wars, to the which he had vowed himself, he went to study at Paris under Arnaldus de Villanova, a learned philosopher; then after finishing his course there, he did withdraw into England, where the King of that day did welcome him with all the good will in the world for the sake of his deep learning, and seeing he did transmute sundry ingots and bars of iron, copper and tin, scorning the common, trivial fashion of transmuting lead and iron into gold. For he knew how more than one of his contemporaries could do this much as well as he, whereas he had skill to do both this and the other as well. But he was fain to perform a feat above the capacity of the rest of alchemists.

I have this tale from a gallant gentleman, which told me himself had it of the jurisconsult Oldrade. This author doth speak of Raymond Lulle in the Commentary he made on the Code De Falsa Moneta ("On False Coining"). Likewise he had it, so he said, on the authority of Carolus Bovillus,[5] a native of Picardy, who hath writ in Latin a life of this same Raymond Lulle.

This is how he did rid himself of his craving for the love of this fair lady. Other men, 'tis very like, had done differently, and would not have ceased to love, but shutting their eyes would e'en have taken what they did desire of her. This he might well enough have done, had he been so minded, seeing the part he did aim at was in no wise touched by any such disease.

I knew once a gentleman and a widow lady of the great world, which were not so scrupulous. For though the lady was afflicted with a great and foul cancer of the breast, yet he did not hesitate to wed her, nor she to take him, contrary to her mother's advice.

I knew likewise a very honourable gentleman, and a great friend of mine, who told me that one time being at Rome, he did chance to love a certain Spanish lady, one of the fairest was ever seen in that city. Now when he did go with her, she would never suffer him to see her, nor ever to touch her, but only with her clothes on. For, if ever he was for touching her, she would cry out in Spanish, Ah! no me tocays, hareis me quosquillas, that is to say, "Nay! do not touch me; you tickle me." But one morning, passing by her house and finding the door open, he goes boldly in. So having entered, without meeting either domestic, page or any living soul, he did penetrate to her bedchamber, and there found her so fast asleep he had leisure to behold and examine her at his ease, for that it was very hot weather. And he declared he did never see aught so fair as was her body, excepting only that he did discover how that, while the one thigh was fair, white, smooth and well-shapen, the other was all dried up, withered and shrunken, so that it looked no bigger than a young child's arm. Who so astonished as my friend? Who yet did not much compassionate her, and never after returned to visit her, nor had any subsequent dealings with her.

Many ladies there be which are not indeed thus shrunken by disease, yet are so thin, scraggy, withered and fleshless they can show naught but the mere skeleton oi a woman. Thus did I know one, a very great lady, of whom the Bishop of Sisteron,[6] one of the witties men at Court, did by way of jest and gibe declare that it were better to sleep with a rat-trap of brass-wire than with her. In a like strain did another gentleman of the Court, when we were rallying him on having dealings with a certain great lady, reply, "Nay! but you are all wrong, for indeed I do love good flesh too well, and she hath naught but bones." Yet to look at these two ladies, so fair and beauteous of face, you would have supposed them both most fleshy and right dainty morsels.

A very high-born Prince of the great world did chance once to be in love with two very fair ladies at one and the same time, as doth often happen to the great, which do love change and variety. The one was exceeding fair, the other a brunette, but both the twain right handsome and most lovable women. So one day as he came away from visiting the dark one, her fair rival being jealous did say to him: "Ah, ha! so you've been flying for crow!" Whereto the Prince did make answer, something angered and ruffled at the word: "And when I am with you, my lady, what am I flying for then?" The lady straight made answer: "Why! for a phœnix, to be sure!" But the Prince, who had as ready a tongue as most, did retort: "Nay! say rather for a bird of Paradise, the which hath ever more feathers than flesh"; casting up at her by this word how that she was rather thin and meagre. The fact is she was too young a thing to be very fat, stoutness commonly coming only upon such women as are getting on in years, at the time when they do begin to lay on flesh and get bigger in limbs and all bodily parts.

A certain gentleman did make a good reply to a great Lord I wot of. Both had handsome wives. The great Lord in question found the gentleman much to his taste, and most enticing. So one day he said to him, "Sir! I must e'en sleep with your wife." To this the gentleman, without a thought, for he was very ready of tongue, did answer, "I am willing enough, but on condition I sleep with yours." The Lord replied, "Why! what would you be at? I tell you, mine is so thin, you would not find her to your taste at all." To this the gentleman did retort, "Yea! by my faith! je la larderai si menu que je la rendrai de bon gout."

Many women there be whose pretty, chubby faces make men fain to enjoy them yet when they do come to it, they find them so fleshless the pleasure and temptation be right soon done away. Among other defects, we do often find the gridiron form, as it called, the bones so prominent and fleshless they do press and chafe a man as sorely as though he had a mule's packsaddle on him. To remedy this, there be some dames are used to employ little cushions or pads, very soft and very delicately made, to bear the brunt and avoid chafing. I have heard speak of many which have used these in such wise that lovers not in the secret, when they do come to them, find naught but what is good to touch, and are quite persuaded 'tis their mistress's natural plumpness. For above the satin, they will wear thin, loose, white muslin. In this way the lover would leave the lady well pleased and satisfied, and himself deem her a right good mistress.

Other women again there be which have the skin all veined and marked like marble, or like mosaic work, dappled like a fawn's coat, itchy and subject to sores and farcies; in a word so foul and disfigured the sight thereof is very far from pleasant.

I have heard speak of a certain great lady, and I have known her myself and do know her still, who is all shaggy and hairy over the chest, stomach, shoulders and all down the spine, like a savage. I leave you to imagine the effect. The proverb hath it, no person thus hairy is ever rich or wanton; but verily in this case the lady is both the one and the other, I can assure you, and is well able to win admirers, to please their eye and gain their love.

Others' skin is like goose flesh or like a feathered starling, all rugged and cross-grained, and black as the devil. Others are blessed with great dangling bosoms, hanging down worse than a cow's giving its calf milk. Very sure am I these be not the fair breasts of Helen, who one day desiring to present to the Temple of Diana an elegant cup in fulfilment of a vow, and employing a goldsmith to make it for her, did cause him to model the same on one of her lovely breasts. He did make the goblet of white gold and in such wise that folk knew not which to admire the most, the cup itself or its resemblance to the beautiful bosom which he had taken for his pattern. It looked so round and sweet and plump, the copy only made men the more to desire the real thing. Pliny doth make especial mention thereof, in the place where he treateth of the existence of white gold. 'Tis very strange, but of white gold was this goblet made.

But who, I should like to know, would care to model golden cups on the great ugly breasts I speak of and have seen. We should be bound to give the goldsmith a big supply of gold, and then all our expense would but end in laughter and mockery, when we should cry, "Look! see our cup wrought on the model of so and so's breasts." Indeed they would not so much be like drinking cups at all as those great wooden puncheons, round and big-bellied, we see used for feeding swine withal.

Others there be the nipples of whose breasts are for all the world like a rotten pear. Others again whose bodies are all rough and wrinkled, that you would take them for old leathern game-bags, such as troopers and innkeepers carry. This cometh to women which have borne children, but who have not been properly seen to by the midwives. On the contrary there be others which have the same sweet and smooth and polished, and their bosom as plump and pretty as if they were still maids.


Other women there be have their parts so pale and wan you would say they had the fever. Such do resemble some drunkards, which though they do drink more wine than a sucking pig, are yet always as pale as the dead. Wherefore do men call them traitors to their wine, as in contrast with such tipplers as are rosy-faced. In like fashion women that are pale in this region might very well be spoke of as traitors to Venus, were it not for the proverb which saith, "a pale whore and a red-faced scamp." Be this as it may, there is no doubt their being pale and wan is not agreeable to see; and is very far from resembling that of one of the fairest ladies of our time, and one that doth hold high rank (and myself have seen her), who they used to say did commonly sport three fine colours all together, to wit scarlet, white and black. For her mouth was brilliant and as red as coral, her hair pretty and curly and as black as ebony. So should it ever be, for indeed this is one of the chiefest beauties of a woman. Then the skin was white as alabaster, and was finely shadowed by this dark hair. A fair sight in truth!

I have heard Madame de Fontaine-Chalandray, known as the fair Torcy, relate how that her Mistress, Queen Eleanor, being robed and dressed, did appear a very beauteous Princess, and indeed there be many which have seen her looking so at our King's Court, and of a good noble figure. But being stripped, she did seem a very giantess in body, so long was it and big; whereas going lower down, she seemed but a dwarf, so short and small were her thighs and legs and all those parts.

Another great lady I have heard speak of was just the opposite. For whereas in body she looked a dwarf, so short and diminutive was it, for the rest down below she was a perfect giantess or colossus, so big, long and high-forked were her thighs and legs, though at the same time well-proportioned and fleshy.

There be many husbands and lovers among us Christians which do desire to be in all respects different from the Turks, which last take no pleasure in looking at women closely, because they say, as I have stated above, they have no shape. We Christians on the other hand do find, 'tis said, great contentment in regarding them carefully and do delight in such. Nay! not only do men enjoy seeing them, but likewise in kissing, and many ladies have shown their lovers the way. Thus a Spanish lady did reply to her lover on his quitting her one day with the words, Bezo las manos y los pies, Señora; Senor, en el medio esta la mejore stacion.

Other women have their thighs so ill proportioned, so unattractive looking and so badly made that they deserve not to be regarded or desired at all; and the same is true of their legs, which in some be so stout and heavy you would say the thick part thereof was a rabbit's belly when it is with young. In others again they be so thin and tiny and so like a stork's shanks, you might well deem them flute pipes rather than a woman's thighs and legs. What the rest is like, I will e'en leave you to imagine!

If I were to detail all the other beauties and deformities women are subject to, truly I should never have done. Now all I do say hereanent, or might say, is never of low-born or common women, but always of high-born, or at least well-born, ladies, which by their fairness of face do set the world on fire, but what of their person is hid doth but ill correspond.