Henry James Pye's second volume (anonymously published) is an extended allegory in heroic couplets. The general model is Pope's Rape of the Lock, though Pye alludes to several other poems by Pope. The action, such as it is, appears to be modeled on the once-popular The Battle of the Sexes (1723) by Samuel Wesley the Younger, itself taken from Joseph Addison's Guardian No. 152. While there are no allusions to Spenser, The Triumph of Fashion is one of a number of mid-century visions in prose and verse that carried on a sort of Spectator-Spenserianism which would culminate in William Hayley's Triumphs of Temper (1781).
The poem opens with a description of Fashion's temple, a structure composed of mixed orders, as are Fashion's devotees, whose actions are next described. Fame's detractors, Wit, Reason, Sense, Virtue, and Beauty are scorned by the goddess: "Do these allies prepare | To wage with troops like mine unequal war?" As the battle begins, Wit and Sense quickly discover that Dulness and Conceit are impregnable against their weapons, nor is Reason any more successful. Beauty, however, is able to overcome Folly, Vice, and even Dulness. Fashion calls in her reserves, the Milliners, Mantua-makers, and Friseurs, who attack with hair-powder: "Her alter'd legions BEAUTY scarcely knows, | And shrinks astonish'd from her shouting foes." The forces of Beauty regroup, however, and are on the verge of triumph when Fashion rolls out a secret weapon that clears the field of all opposition.
John Langhorne: "Wit and Sense are here represented as foolish enough to go to war with Fashion, and their campaign is, of course, unsuccessful. Dulness is made one of Fashion's generals, in which appointment we do not see much propriety; but possibly the Author's connection with the Goddess might induce him to give her that preferment" Monthly Review 44 (May 1771) 416.
Critical Review: "This allegorical poem represents a conflict between Reason, Wit, Sense, Virtue, and Beauty, on the one side, and the troops of Fashion on the other. After an obstinate, but unsuccessful, engagement of the four allies first named, with the forces of the latter, the issue of the battle is long suspended by Beauty, who makes great havoc among the enemy, till at length, the irresistible powers of the cards advance to the aid of Fashion, and victory determines in her favour. The personages are ingeniously imagined, and the characters contrasted with propriety; the description is elegant and picturesque: the versification flowing and harmonious; and the author has animated his subject with a spirit of poetry that interests us in the fate of the ideal combatants" 71 (April 1771) 315.
In that bless'd season, when descending snows,
In robes of virgin white, the fields inclose;
When Beaux, and Belles, their rural seats forego,
For the gay seats of ALMACK'S and SOHO:
When to his consort's wish the sportsman yields,
And quits, for GROSVENOR-SQUARE, the frost-bound fields;
What time stout Labor waking rears his head,
And jaded Luxury just thinks of bed;
Tir'd with the toilsome pleasures of the day,
Stretch'd on my couch with weary limbs I lay:
Then, as disorder'd slumbers clos'd my eyes,
This strange fantastic vision seem'd to rise.
Methought my footsteps trod a spacious plain,
Of size, assembled nations to contain:
Expos'd to sight, nor screen'd by sheltering wood,
Full in the midst a spacious building stood.
In various ornaments, on every part,
Had ARCHITECTURE lavish'd all her art;
Here GRECIAN columns GOTHIC structures bear,
Gay CHINA spreads her painted arches there;
The artist's skill, to charm the roving view,
Had mix'd old orders, and invented new.
High in the dome, on massy pillars rear'd,
Rich with refulgent gems, a throne appear'd,
Where, deck'd in all the pomp of regal state,
'Mid gazing crouds, a female figure sat;
And, while ten thousand tongues her power proclaim,
The vaulted roofs re-echo FASHION'S name.
Round her a train of busy nymphs are seen,
Dressing with skilful hands their haughty queen:
Some plait her robes, her washes some prepare,
Some paint her cheeks, and some adorn her hair;
Still through perpetual change their labors run,
One moment alters, what the last had done.
Numbers each art to gain her favor try,
And watch the varying motions of her eye;
At her command employ their utmost skill,
And yield their minds, and bodies, to her will;
Lay health, and fame, and fortune, all aside,
To follow blindly where her mandates guide.
Let but the worshipp'd Goddess give the word,
No toil seems difficult, no scheme absurd.
Pale Sickness tries each art that can avail,
To make her faded features yet more pale;
While rosy Health's capricious fingers spread,
On her fresh blooming cheeks, a foreign red.
The weakly stripling, fainting with the pace,
Urges o'er hill, and dale, the breathless chace;
While the stout brawny youth, in languid strains,
Of tender frame, and shatter'd nerves, complains.
Nobles, whose sires for freedom bravely stood,
Or seal'd her sacred charter with their blood,
Glory their country's honor to have sold,
And prostitute their dearest rights for gold;
In Britain's cause while patriot Porters cry,
And Butchers bellow, WILKES and LIBERTY!
As at this motley scene, in wild amaze,
On every side with wondering eyes I gaze,
Sudden, methought, I heard the clarion's notes;
Loud on the wind the martial clamour floats!—
The embattled legions glitter from afar,
And threaten FASHION'S dome with fatal War.
Panting with rage to break her tyrant laws,
Here sprightly WIT his light-arm'd cohorts draws;
REASON, and SENSE, with VIRTUE by their side,
In close array, their firm battalions guide;
And BEAUTY leads in graceful order on,
Her radiant files, that glitter in the sun.
The Goddess saw, and through the enamel'd red
A flush of rage her glowing features spread:
Then, frowning, thus: "Do these allies prepare
To wage with troops like mine unequal war?—
Soon shall my veterans o'er the purpled plain,
With force superior, drive the rebel train.
Though WIT, and SENSE, their various bands combine,
And VIRTUE'S powers with BEAUTY'S squadrons join,
The boldst of their tribe shall mourn, too late,
The rash resolve that tempts them to their fate,
And bids them urge a host to warlike deeds,
Which DULNESS marshals, and which FOLLY leads."
She spoke, and while her voice the war defy'd,
Assembling myriads croud on every side;
Undaunted to the field of death they go,
And frown amazement on the approaching foe:
With dreadful shock the encount'ring armies meet,
And the plain trembling, rocks beneath their feet.
Ye NYMPHS OF PINDUS! string my feeble lyre,
And in my bosom wake Maeonian Fire!
So shall my song, in equal strains, relate,
The bleeding horrors of this field of fate.
First WIT'S impetuous train the fight began;
Full on the foe, with active force they ran.
The hardy sons of DULNESS bear the shock,
Sustain the onset, and their ardor mock.
Secure from wounds they fight, no hostile reed
Can make the sacred sons of DULNESS bleed:
CONCEIT, (whose tenfold shield's the surest fence
'Gainst all the fire of WIT, and force of SENSE;
In which, when held before the warrior's heart,
No weapon finds a vulnerable part,
But from it's temper'd verge the arrows bound,
Nor leave a mark, but blunted strew the ground.)
CONCEIT, propitious hovering o'er their heads,
Before this favorite band her buckler spreads;
Behind it's ample round they safely lie,
And scorn the shafts of Satire, as they fly.
Weak are the attempts of REASON to sustain
The shatter'd force of WIT'S defeated train;
Alike his baffled legions quickly yield,
And still victorious DULNESS keeps the field.
But different far the martial scene appears,
Where her triumphant banner BEAUTY rears.
FOLLY, and VICE, in vain their powers oppose,
Wide o'er the field her car exulting goes;
Before her bands the hostile legions fly,
And round her shining chariot myriads die:
Even DULNESS learns to tremble at the sight,
Draws off her conquering sons, and shuns the fight.
The trembling Goddess, seis'd with deep dismay,
Beheld the fatal fortune of the day:
Yet one remaining band some hopes afford,
To snatch the victory from her rival's sword.
From various regions drawn, a troop she had,
Of forms uncouth, in dress fantastic clad,
The truest slaves of FASHION'S potent reign,
The keenest foes to BEAUTY'S gallant train.
A thousand arms they wield, and arts they know,
Destructive all to their triumphant foe:
Here AFFECTATION, dress'd in fell grimace,
Distorts each feature of a lovely face;
Here MILLINERS and MANTUA-MAKERS join
Their cruel skill, to hide each form divine;
Above the rest, here dire FRISEURS prepare
Their horrid engines, and provoke the war:
Ten thousand puffs advanc'd with dreadful power
Against the adverse host their powder shower;
The rising dust obscures the doubtful fight,
And hides the struggling armies from the sight;
Wide o'er the foe the gathering mist extends,
Full on their fronts the snowy cloud descends.
No more, by artful braidings unconfin'd,
The flaxen hair flows wanton in the wind;
No more the auburn tresses loosely break,
In curls luxuriant, o'er the snowy neck;
Alike the sable locks their lustre lose,
And golden ringlets, sung by many a Muse.
O'er the fair train the clouds of powder fall,
And universal whiteness covers all.
Her alter'd legions BEAUTY scarcely knows,
And shrinks astonish'd from her shouting foes.
So when on fam'd PHARSALIA'S spacious stage
The world beheld her rival chiefs engage,
While ROME'S luxurious youth, on POMPEY'S side,
Shining in arms, the strokes of death defied,
CAESAR no more against each dauntless breast,
But to their eyes, his glittering spears address'd:
Those who could death in freedom's cause embrace,
Struck with the terrors of a mangled face,
From the disputed field inglorious fly,
To 'scape the horrors of deformity.
Now FASHION'S breast with eager transport beats,
While BEAUTY slowly from the field retreats:
But soon her warriors blast the short delight,
Assume fresh courage, and renew the fight.
Each wily stratagem is us'd in vain
To vanquish, or destroy, the lovely train;
Though every dress to hide their charms they wear,
Distort their features, and deform their hair;
To every dress superior still they rise,
Still darts the living lightning from their eyes:
FOLLY beholds her fainting squadrons yield,
And baffled DULNESS quits at length the field.
Now, FASHION, shame had veil'd thy haughty head,
And BEAUTY reign'd triumphant in thy stead:
But, lo! auxiliar armies bend their way,
To rescue from her force the hard-fought day.
These foreign aids, in four divisions drawn,
With steady footsteps march across the lawn.
Two dress'd in sable garbs their squadrons spread,
Two like BRITANNIA'S legions clad in red.
Amidst their ranks four frowning kings appear,
And four fair queens their beauteous foreheads rear.
The embattled warriors round, a dreadful fight,
Pant for the conflict, and demand the fight.
"Now haughty foes!" (exulting FASHION cries)
"Now learn my potent empire to despise!—
Though the disastrous shock of former arms
Had left ye blooming in your native charms;
No rouge had spread, no powder fall'n to shroud
Your dazzling lustre in a dusty cloud;
Not all your vaunted power should ever boast
One laurel ravish'd from yon veteran host.
Elate in arms, and foremost in the field,
See mighty PAM his massy halberd wield!—
Where-e'er, by victory led, the hero goes,
What daring arm, undaunted, shall oppose?
Or who, with fearless eye, the plain explores
Where dreadful march yon sable MATADORES?"
The Goddess said. — Impatient to engage,
Onward the legions rush with shouts of rage.
In vain fair BEAUTY calls her faithless band,
And bids each chief the fierce attack withstand;
The apostate warriors yield without a blow,
Throw down their useless arms, and kneel before the foe.
In triumph now to FASHION'S ample fane
The jocund victors march across the plain;
And BEAUTY, hapless victim of the war!
Is chain'd a captive to her rival's car.
Now joy tumultuous swell'd the Goddess' breast,
And thus her voice the conquering train address'd:
"Hail, happy chiefs! whose steady zeal alone
Has sav'd from ruin FASHION'S tottering throne,
Whose arms have taught my strongest foes to yield,
And chas'd resistance from yon sanguine field:
For this exploit, your ever-honor'd band,
As guards perpetual, round my dome shall stand.
And sounding FAME, who at my palace gates,
Obedient on my will, for ever waits,
Shall with her trumpets teach the echoing wind
To bear this happy tale to all mankind,
That in each clime where-e'er my awful sway,
And high behests, the race of man obey,
Your sacred names, to all my sons endear'd,
Shall, as my own, be worshipp'd and rever'd.
SENSE, VIRTUE, WIT, and PRUDENCE, all combin'd,
No more shall win the reverence of mankind,
COURAGE, and WORTH, no longer honor boast,
But GLORY follow whom you favor most:
O'er BEAUTY, PAM shall reign despotic still,
CUPID resign his arrows to SPADILLE,
And all who bow to FASHION'S dread awards,
Confess the universal power of CARDS."
[Poems (1787) 1:94-108]