As in France, manners tried to redeem morals, and gave a ceremonious grace to ornate dress, obscene literature, and profane speech. Charles himself was a model of manners; his courtesy and charm spread through the upper classes, and left their mark on English life. Men kissed each other on meeting, and kissed a lady on being introduced to her. Ladies in London, as in Paris, received gentlemen while in bed. There was an invigorating frankness, a scorn of hypocrisy, in the literature, the theater, and the court. But the candor released a flood of coarseness on the stage and in daily speech. Profanity was unparalleled. Here Charles was among, the exceptions, confining himself to “Odds fish” as his favorite oath. The surviving Puritans were clean of speech except in belaboring their opponents; and the Quakers refused to swear.
Men outdid the women in fanciful dress, from powdered wigs to silk stockings and buckled shoes. The wig or periwig was another import from France. Cavaliers and others whose hair was short, and who were loath to be mistaken for close-cropped Puritan Roundheads, covered their shortage with alien cuttings; and men whose hair was turning gray or white found the wig useful in disguising their age, for then nearly all men shaved. It offset in some measure the King’s Spanish complexion and Brobdingnagian nose. Pepys made his first wig a critical affair, and mourned that his own beloved hair had to be shorn to make way for his peruke and provide hair for another head; 128 periodically he had his wig “cleansed of its nits.” 129 The stiff Elizabethan-Jacobean ruff had now disappeared. Doublet and long cloak were giving way to waistcoat and surcoat; the waistcoat or vest, however, reached to the calf of the leg, and was bound to the body by a sash. Breeches stopped at the knee. Swords dangled at the side of aristocratic or moneyed legs. Velvet and lace, ribbons and frills, helped to complete the courtly man; and in winter he might keep his hands warm in a muff hung from his neck.
Fashionable women powdered and perfumed their hair, curled it into ringlets over their foreheads, and supplemented it with false locks mounted on secret wires. They feathered their hats with rare plumage. They painted black spots (“patches”) upon their cheeks, foreheads, or chins as added inducements to the chase. They exposed their shoulders and generous portions of their breasts; so Louise de Kéroualle had Lely paint her with one breast naked, and Nell Gwyn went her one better. Legs were alluringly concealed. Dainty articles of toilette were in rising demand. Woman was already so intricate an artifact that a Restoration play pictured her in hyperbole:
Her teeth were made in the Blackfriars, her eyebrows in the Strand, and her hair on Silver Street. . . . She takes herself asunder, when she goes to bed, into some twenty boxes, and about noon the next day is put together again like a great German clock. 130
Extravagance was de rigueur. Life, become ceremonious again, required elaborate equipment. Servants had to be hired in gross; Evelyn’s father had half a hundred; Pepys had a cook, a housemaid, a lady’s maid, and a serving girl. Meals were tremendous; note Pepys’s dinner on January 26, 1660, long before his salad days:
My wife had got ready a very fine dinner—viz., a dish of marrow bones, a leg of mutton, a loin of veal, a dish of fowl, three pullets, and two dozen of larks all in a dish; a great tart, a neat’s tongue, a dish of anchovies, a dish of prawns and cheese.
The main meal was taken about one o’clock. Cooking was English. Gramont, when Charles explained that the servants waited on him on bended knee as a mark of respect, said (or so he tells us): “I thank your Majesty for the explanation; I thought they were begging your pardon for serving you so bad a dinner.” 131
Drinking of alcoholic beverages was no merely social function. Water was scarcely ever drunk, even by children; 132 beer was easier to find than water fit to drink. So everybody, of any age, drank beer, and the well-to-do added whiskey or imported wine. Most people visited a tavern once a day, and all classes got drunk now and then.
Coffee had come in from Turkey about 1650; till 1700 most of it was imported from the region around Mocha in the Yemen; in the eighteenth century the Dutch transplanted it to Java, the Portuguese to Ceylon and Brazil, the English to Jamaica. The use of coffee to overcome drowsiness and stimulate the wits spread its popularity. London opened its first coffeehouse in 1652; by 1700 there were three thousand of them in the capital. 133 Every man of any account made one or another of them his regular rendezvous, where he could meet his friends and learn the latest scandal and news. Charles II tried to suppress the coffeehouses as centers of political agitation and conspiracy, but the itch to talk and drink and smell tobacco smoke frustrated him. From some coffeehouses sprang the clubs that played a role in eighteenth-century politics, and then became a refuge from monogamy. The coffeehouses, however, differed from the later clubs, not only because coffee was the favorite drink, but because conversation was encouraged. Literary lions like Dryden, Addison, and Swift had their rostrums in coffeehouses. English freedom of speech was nourished there.
Tea came to England from China about 1650, but it was so expensive that a century passed before it displaced coffee in the English ritual. Pepys thought it quite an adventure when he had his first cup of tea. 134 Meanwhile the cacao bean had been imported from Mexico and Central America; about 1658 a new drink was made by adding vanilla and sugar to cacao; the resultant chocolate became a popular drink during the Restoration, and was served in many coffeehouses.
All classes, including many women and some children, now smoked tobacco, always through long pipes. The women thought it had some antiseptic value, as in averting plague. Probably from this notion the habit arose, in this period, of taking snuff—i.e., inhaling powdered tobacco.
Now that the Puritan incubus was lifted, games and sports flourished. The poor again enjoyed puppet shows, circuses, cockfighting, bear and bull baiting, tightrope walkers, wrestlers, jugglers, pugilists, conjurers. The rich took to venery in both its senses. Charles II played tennis till he was fifty-three. Evelyn liked bowling on the green, which is still a pretty sight in England today. Cricket was beginning to be a national pastime; in 1661 we find the first mention of a ground specifically reserved for it. In that year Vauxhall Gardens were laid out on the south bank of the Thames, and soon became a fashionable resort. St. James’s Park was opened to the public by Charles II. Hyde Park was now established as the place where the elite, led by the King and Queen, drove carriages on pleasant afternoons. “Society” was beginning to take the waters at Bath.
All but the poorest classes traveled in stagecoaches, which had begun a regular “penny post” service in 1657, and a scheduled passenger service in 1658. “Hackney coaches” had served intracity traffic since 1625. The very rich traveled in a “coach-and-six”; the three teams were not for display, but to pull the coach through muddy stretches; sometimes the local cattle had to be hitched in front of the horses to tug the coach out of hubdeep mire. Roads were mud or dust. The roadside inns, with their lively mixture of coachmen, travelers, actors, salesmen, thieves, and tarts, were preparing to make their contribution to the literature of England. The rough, lusty, lovable England that Dickens knew in his youth was taking form.