Henry Craik, ed. English Prose. 1916. Vol. III. Seventeenth Century
The Story of Brunetta and Phillis
By Richard Steele (16721729)
From The Spectator
IN the year 1688, and on the same day of that year, were born in Cheapside, London, two females of exquisite feature and shape; the one we shall call Brunetta, the other Phillis. A close intimacy between their parents made each of them the first acquaintance the other knew in the world. They played, dressed babies, acted visitings, learned to dance and make curtsies, together. They were inseparable companions in all the little entertainments their tender years were capable of; which innocent happiness continued until the beginning of their fifteenth year, when it happened that Mrs. Phillis had a headdress on, which became her so very well, that instead of being beheld any more with pleasure for their amity to each other, the eyes of the neighbourhood were turned to remark them with comparison of their beauty. They now no longer enjoyed the ease of mind and pleasing indolence in which they were formerly happy, but all their words and actions were misinterpreted by each other, and every excellence in their speech and behaviour was looked upon as an act of emulation to surpass the other. These beginnings of disinclination soon improved into a formality of behaviour, a general coldness, and by natural steps into an irreconcileable hatred. These two rivals for the reputation of beauty were in their stature, countenance, and mien so very much alike, that if you were speaking of them in their absence, the words in which you described the one must give you an idea of the other. They were hardly distinguishable, you would think, when they were apart, though extremely different when together. What made their enmity the more entertaining to all the rest of their sex was, that in detraction from each other, neither could fall upon terms which did not hit herself as much as her adversary. Their nights grew restless with meditation of new dresses to outvie each other, and inventing new devices to recall admirers who observed the charms of the one rather than those of the other on the last meeting. Their colours failed at each others appearance, flushed with pleasure at the report of a disadvantage, and their countenances withered upon instances of applause. The decencies to which women are obliged made these virgins stifle their resentment so far as not to break into open violences, while they equally suffered the torments of a regulated anger. Their mothers, as it is usual, engaged in the quarrel, and supported the several pretensions of the daughters with all that ill-chosen sort of expense which is common with people of plentiful fortunes and mean taste. The girls preceded their parents like queens of May, in all the gaudy colours imaginable, on every Sunday to church, and were exposed to the examination of the audience for superiority of beauty.
During this constant struggle it happened that Phillis one day at public prayers smote the heart of a gay West Indian, who appeared in all the colours which can affect an eye that could not distinguish between being fine and tawdry. This American, in a Summer-island suit, was too shining and too gay to be resisted by Phillis, and too intent upon her charms to be diverted by any of the laboured attractions of Brunetta. Soon after Brunetta had the mortification to see her rival disposed of in a wealthy marriage, while she was only addressed to in a manner that showed she was the admiration of all men, but the choice of none. Phillis was carried to the habitation of her spouse in Barbadoes. Brunetta had the ill-nature to inquire for her by every opportunity, and had the misfortune to hear of her being attended by numerous slaves, fanned into slumbers by successive bands of them, and carried from place to place in all the pomp of barbarous magnificence. Brunetta could not endure these repeated advices, but employed all her arts and charms in laying baits for any of condition of the same island, out of a mere ambition to confront her once more before she died. She at last succeeded in her design, and was taken to wife by a gentleman whose estate was contiguous to that of her enemys husband. It would be endless to enumerate the many occasions on which these irreconcileable beauties laboured to excel each other; but in process of time it happened that a ship put into the island, consigned to a friend of Phillis, who had directions to give her the refusal of all goods for apparel, before Brunetta could be alarmed of their arrival. He did so, and Phillis was dressed in a few days in a brocade more gorgeous and costly than had ever before appeared in that latitude. Brunetta languished at the sight, and could by no means come up to the bravery of her antagonist. She communicated her anguish of mind to a faithful friend, who, by an interest in the wife of Philliss merchant, procured a remnant of the same silk for Brunetta. Phillis took pains to appear in all public places where she was sure to meet Brunetta; Brunetta was now prepared for the insult, and came to a public ball in a plain black silk mantua, attended by a beautiful negro girl in a petticoat of the same brocade with which Phillis was attired. This drew the attention of the whole company, upon which the unhappy Phillis swooned away, and was immediately conveyed to her house. As soon as she came to herself, she fled from her husbands house, went on board a ship in the road, and is now landed in inconsolable despair at Plymouth .