Once a Week (magazine)/Series 1/Volume 2/Hair cut, sir?

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2670423Once a Week, Series 1, Volume II — Hair cut, sir?
1860Albany de Grenier Fonblanque


Ye, who in an utilitarian and investigating age, would seek to trace the advance of luxury, and speculate upon its effects on the manners and morality of men—come and have your hair cut!

Mention not that ancient city of Prince Bladud, suggested by the trivial to such as advance questionable propositions—I said cut, not shaved. I could write very learnedly, if I chose, of a time when gentlemen had their heads shaved, without any imputation on their sanity, and had other people’s hair made up into wigs, plastered up with fat, and floured all over; but it is not of this sort of hair-dressing that I intend to treat.

In my early youth I looked upon the hair-cutter<-- see list of hyphenated words --> as a sworn tormentor, second only in point of savagery to the family dentist. Our barber was a stout, stertorous man, who operated in his shirt sleeves, and wore a large apron, with a double-barrelled pocket in front, tied round his black satin waistcoat. His hair, which was deeply, unnaturally black, was bestowed in fat, flabby rolls over his neck and ears—his ambition being, as it appeared to me, to make it look as much like a wig as possible. He exercised his art in a stuffy little back shop, in an atmosphere of bear’s grease. His implements were not of the choicest description: his comb, which, when not required, was stuck in his greasy hair, had a broken tooth, and a generally washed-out appearance: his scissors had a sharp, angry way of snapping: and his brush (he used but one) was a narrow, oblong affair, all handle, with a blistered back, and low-spirited bristles. When about to become one of his patients, I was seated in a rush-bottomed chair, and covered with a pink checked cloth of dubious cleanliness, which he tucked roughly down my neck, and wound about me in such a manner, that I could not raise my hands to brush away the clippings that he scattered over my face, had my life depended upon so doing. Having me thus completely in his power, he would grasp my neck tightly with wide-stretched finger and thumb, and then, with three dumpy digits of his disengaged hand, would poke my head suddenly on one side, causing the most acute pain to my upper vertebra. He then began snapping cross-grained scissors about my ears in an abstracted manner. He took delight in combing a lock of hair down upon my forehead close to my eyes. He would then pass one of the blades slowly under it, grazing along the skin, and sharply snap them together, in a way that made me feel hot all over. The clipping process done, he would proceed to dab at my head with his miserable brush, still retaining his former abstracted air—his gaze being intently fixed upon nothing at all on the opposite wall of the apartment. Thus, gazing, would he repeatedly apply the wooden sides of the brush to my scalp, or the low-spirited bristles to my nose and mouth. He never dreamed of apologising for his awkwardness, and snored audibly all the time I was under his hands.

Notwithstanding his having stuffed so much of the wrapper down my neck, as to burst off the button of my shirt collar, he contrived to sow short sharp pieces of cut hair all down my person, even into my boots.

It was not because I was but a “small boy,” that I underwent this treatment. My uncle John was a florid gentleman, six feet one in his stockings, and, moreover, not blessed with the sweetest of tempers,—yet I have seen him surrender himself like a lamb into the hands of our hairdresser, and have inwardly chuckled at witnessing the wry faces my worthy relative made as his head was poked and knocked about, and his hair tugged at when it got into a tangle. Certainly our hairdresser had no idea of the “suaviter in modo,” and if the comb met with an impediment in passing through our locks, the “fortiter in re” was remorselessly applied.

Years pass on, and I am conscious of a marvellous change that has come over the spirit of hair-cutters. No longer do I look forward with dread to the day when I must go and be clipped. On the contrary, I am glad of any excuse to seek a tensor. I am shown into a handsomely furnished apartment, and take a comfortable seat in front of a large looking-glass; before me is a toilet-table, or marble slab, covered with perfumes and essences in cut-glass bottles of brilliant hue. A young man glides quietly into the room, bows, and covers me loosely with a snow-white wrapper, which he fastens about my shoulders with the utmost care. The only objection that I can find to the young man, who looks like a captain in the army as represented on the stage, is his pertinacious misapplication of the letter H—otherwise, he is better than a father to me; his scissors are noiseless, his touch light as eider-down, he coos soft observations, meteorological and otherwise, which I need not answer, into my ear; he cuts my hair in a way that sends me into a delicious dream, passes his hands caressingly over my extensive bumps of philanthropy, veneration, memory, &c., and only rouses me from the delicious reverie into which his gentle manipulations have thrown me, to inquire if I will be pleased to be shampooed. Of course I will! Anything at thy hands, gentlest of thy race! Thereupon a large tin basin on a stand is wheeled in front of me. It looks unpleasantly like what I met with at my dentist’s, but such is my state of dreamy happiness that no unpleasing association arises. I am requested to bend my head, and my military-looking operator proceeds to apply a soft cool mixture which I do not see; he then cleanses, coaxes, and lovingly fondles each separate lock of hair. This done, I am treated to a warm shower which becomes gradually cooler and cooler, till a cold douche splashes over my sconce, causing me the most exquisite sensations. The more than womanly tenderness with which I am dried baffles description. The shampooing apparatus being removed, I am brushed (not patted on the head with a piece of board stuck over with bristles), but brushed with brushes moved with firm but gentle pressure through my hair, which is then parted with earnest care. A pang of regret passes over me whilst this is doing, for full well I know that the delicious operation is drawing towards an end. I would gladly pay double and ask the gentle operator to begin again, but conscience forbids me to revel in such luxury. I am pained to be compelled to tell my velvet-fingered attendant that I do not require any Balsamic Cream of Mesopotamia, or, in fact, anything else for my ’air,” and I quit that mansion of blissful sensations, a light-headed but clear-brained man, in just the right mood to turn an epigram or pay a compliment.

Albany Fonblanque, Jun.