BATHING AT DIEPPE.
To THE EDITOR OF THE "SPECTATOR."
Dieppe, Sept. 17th, 1863. THAT great work, the " Sartor Resartus," should have contained a chapter on bathing-dresses, and I have no doubt would have done so had the author been a frequenter of French watering-places. Each of these —even such a little place as Treport—has its etablissement des tains, its etiquettes and rules as to the dress and comportment of its bathing populations; and Dieppe is the largest, and not the least quaint, of them all. The " etab/isse- meat" here is a long glass and iron building like the Crystal Palace, with a dome in the middle under which there are daily concerts and nightly balls ; and a transept at each end, one of which is a very good reading-room, while in the other a mild kind of gambling goes on under the form of a lottery for smelling bottles, clocks, and such like ware. I am told that the play here is by no means so innocent as it looks, and that persons in search of investments for spare cash can be accommodated to any amount, but to a stranger nothing of this discloses itself. Between this building and the sea there runs a handsome esplanade, the
favourite promenade, and immediately underneath are the rows of little portable canvas huts which serve as bathing machines. The ladies bathe under one end of the esplanade, and the gentlemen under the other, while the fashionable crowd leans over, or sits by the low esplanade wall, inspecting the proceedings. This contiguity is, no doubt, the cause of the wonderful toilettes, specializes des bains, which fill the shops here, and are used by all the ladies and many of the men. They consist of large loose trousers and a jacket with skirts, made of fine flannel or serge, of all shades of colour according to taste, and of waterproof bathing caps, all of which garments are trimmed with blue, or pink, or red bows and streamers. Over all the baigneurs commie it faut throw a large cloak, also tastefully trimmed. Thus habited the lady walks out of her but attended by a maid, to whom when she reaches the water's edge she hands her cloak, and, taking the hand of one of the male baigneurs, proceeds with such plunges and dancings as she has a fancy for, and then returns to the shore, is enveloped in her cloak by her maid, and re-enters her hut. These male baigneurs are a necessary accompaniment of the per- formance. I have only heard of one case of resistance to the custom, which ended comically enough. A young Englishman, well known in foreign society, was here with his wife, who insisted on bathing, but vowed she would go into the water with no man but her husband. He consented, and in due course appeared on the ladies side with his pretty wife, in most discreet apparel, went through the office of baigneur, and returned to his own side. This raised a storm among the lady bathers, and the authorities inter- fered. The next day the lady went to the gentlemen's side ; but this was even more scandalous, and was also forbidden. The per- secuted couple then took to bathing at six in the morning ; but, alas ! on the second morning the esplanade was lined even at that untimely hour by young Frenchmen, who, though by no means early risers, had made a point of being out to assist at the bath of their eccentric friends, and as these last did not appreciate the éclat of performing alone, for the amusement of their friends, the lawless efforts of ces An glais came to an end. In England, where dress for the water is not properly attended to by either sex, one quite understands the rule of absolute separation ; but here, where every lady is accompanied by a man in any case, where she is more covered than she is in a ball-room, and where all her acquaintance are looking on, it does not occur to one why she should not be accompanied by her husband. For, as on the land, here people are much better known by their dress in the water than by anything else. A young gentleman asked one of his partners whether she had seen him doing some particular feat of swimming that morning; she answered that she had not recognized him, to which he replied, " Oh ! you may always know me by my straw hat and red ribbon." The separation here is certainly a farce, for at sixty yards, as we know from our musketry instructors, you recognize the features of the party, and the distance between the men and women bathers is not so much. The rule is enforced, however, at any depth. A brother and sister, both good swimmers, used to swim out and meet one another at the boat which lies in the offing in case of accidents. But this was stopped, as they talked together in English, which excited doubts as to their relationship. I suppose it would be more improper for girls and boys of marriageable age to swim together than to walk ; but I vow at this moment I cannot see why ?
You may fancy, Sir, that in such a state of things as I have described good stories oo the great bathing subject are rife. The last relates to a beauty of European celebrity, who is known to be here and to be bathing, but keeps herself in such strict privacy that scarcely a soul has been able to get a look at her, even behind two thick veils. Had she really wished to be unnoticed she could not have managed worse. The mystery set all the female world which frequents the " elablissement" in a tremor. They were like a knot of sportsmen when a stag of ten tines has been seen in the next glen, or when a 301b. salmon has broken the tackle of some cunning fisherman, and is known to lie below a certain stone. Of course, they were sure that something dreadful must have happened to her looks, which she who should be happy enough to catch her bathing would detect. In spite of all, the beauty eluded them for some time, but at last she has been stalked, and I am proud to say, Sir, by a sportswoman of our own country. By chance, this lady was walking at eight in the morning, when the tide was so low that no one was bathing. She saw a figure dressed en bourgeoise approaching the bathing-place, apparently alone, but two women suspiciously like maids followed at a respectful distance. It flashed across our countrywoman that this must be the incognita; she followed. To her delight, the three turned to the bathing-ground, and disappeared in two huts which had been placed together apparently by accident. She took up a position a few yards from the huts. After an agonizing pause, the door opened, and a head appeared, which was instantly withdrawn, but now too late. The mystery was solved. It was too late to send maids to the directeur of the baths to warn off the spectator, and, moreover, useless, for she politely declined to move, though there was nothing more to discover. The whole establishment is ringing with the news that the beauty is yak' comme une morte, and the inference, of course, follows that paint has been forbidden. You will alio, Sir, no doubt, be interested to know that she wears a red rose on the top of her bathing-cap, which, having regard to her present complexion, does not say much for her taste in the choice of colours.
But if the water toilettes here are fabulous, what shall I say of those on the land? The colours, the textures, the infinite variety, and general loudness of these bewilder the sight and baffle the pen of ordinary mortals. The keenest rivalry is kept up amongst the fair frequenters of the establishment. They sit by hundreds there working and causeing of afternoons, while the band plays from three to six, or sweeping about on the esplanade ; and in the evening are there again in ever new and brighter colours. The Dieppe Journal comments on the most striking toilettes. It noticed with commendation the purple velvet petticoats of the ladies of a millionaire house ; it glowed in describing the " toilette Ecossaise " of another rich Frenchwoman. An officer on reading the announcement laid down the paper, and addressed a lady, his neighbour, "illais, Madame, comment est que ca se fait?" He, worthy man, had but one idea of the toilette in question, which he had gained from the Highland regiments in the Crimea. i am happy to say, both for their own sakes and their husbands and fathers, that the Englishwomen are by far the most simply dressed. The men generally speaking are clad like rational beings, but with many exceptions. I hear of a celebrity in grey velvet knickerbockers and pink silk stockings, but have not seen him. A man in a black velvet suit, and a red beard reaching his waist, has just walked past, without apparently exciting wonder in any breast but that of your contributor.
Dieppe must be a paradise to the rising generation. The children share all the amusements of their elders, and have also special enter- tainments of their own, amongst which one notes specially two balls a week at the establishment. The whole building is brilliantly lighted every evening, and on these nights the space under the central dome is cleared of chairs, and makes a splendid ball-room. Here the little folk assemble, and go through the whole performance selemnly, just like their elders. The raised permanent seats are occupied by manunas, nurses, governesses, and the public. The girls sit round on the lowest seats, and the boys gather in groups talking to them, or walking about in the centre. They are of all nations, in all costumes—one boy in a red Garibaldian blouse and belt I noted as the most dangerous flirt. There were common English jackets and trousers, knickerbockers of many colours, and many little blue French uniforms. There was no dancer older than fifteen, and some certainly as young as seven. When the music began the floor was at once covered with couples, who danced quadrilles, waltzes, and a pretty dance like the Schottische, to the tune of " When the green leaves come again." At the end of each dance the girls were handed to their chairs with bows worthy of Beau Brummel. There were at least 200 grown folk lookittg on, and a prettier sight I have seldom seen, for the children daubed beautifully for the most part. Should I like my children to be amongst them ? That is quite another affair. On the whole, I incline to agree with the ladies with whom I went, that it would, perhaps, do boys good, but must be utterly bad for the girls. I certainly never saw before so self-possessed a set of young gentle- men as those in question, and doubt if any one of them will ever feel shy in after-life.
Last Sunday afternoon, again, we had a fête des roacances for the children. The Gazette des Bains announced, " A deux heures, ascensions grotesques, l'enlevement du phoque—h deux heures et demie, distribution de jouets et bonbons—i trois heures, course a Ines, montks par des jockeys grosse-tote;" a most piquant pro- gramme. Not to mention the other attractions, what could the enticement du phoque be ? In good time I went into the itablisse- meat grounds at the cost of a franc, and was at once guided by
the crowd to the brink of a small pond, where sure enough a veritable live seal was swimming about, asking its all as plainly as mild brown eyes could speak what all the rout meant, and then diving smoothly under, to appear again on the other side of the pond. Were the cruel Frenchmen actually going to send the gentle beast up into the air? My speculations were cut short by the first comic ascent and the shouts of the juveniles. A figure
very like Richard Doyle's Saracens in the illustrations to Rebecca and Rowena, with large head, bottle nose, and little straight arms and legs, mounted suddenly into the air, and went away, wobbling and bobbing, before the wind. Another and another followed, as fast as they could be filled with gas. The wind blew towards the town, and there was great excitement as to their destiny, for they rose only to about the height of the houses. I own I was surprised to find myself so deeply interested whether the absurd little Punchinellos would clear the chimneys. One only failed, a fellow in a three-cornered hat like a beadle's, and, refusing to mount, was soon torn in pieces by the boys. The last was a balloon of the figure of a seal, and I was much relieved when we all trooped away to the distribution of bonbons, leaving the real phoca still gliding about in his pond with wondering eyes. The bonbons were distributed in the most polite manner, the handfuls which were thrown amongst the crowd only calling forth a "Pardon Monsieur," " Pardon Mademoiselle," as they were picked up, in- stead of the hurly-burly and scramble we should have had at home. The donkey races might better be called processions, which went three times round the etablissement. The winner was ridden by a jockey whose grosse tete was that of a cock, in compliment, I suppose, to the national bird; the lion jockey was nowhere, but he beat the cook's boy, who came in last. The figures were well got up, and some of the heads really funny. At night we had fire- works, and a grand pyrotechnic drama of the taking of the old castle, which stands on the chalk cliff right over the itabli.ssement and commanding the town. The garrison joined in the fun, and assaulted the walls twice amidst discharges of rockets and great guns. The third assault was successful, and the red-legged soldiers swarmed on the walls in a blaze of light and planted the tricolour. A brilliant scroll of "Vine l'Empere'ur" came out on the dark castle walls above their heads, and so the show ended. The castle, by the way, is a most picturesque building One of the towers has been favourably noticed by Mr. Ruskin. It is also to be reverenced as the stronghold of Henry IV. and the Protestants. It was here, just before the battle of Argues, that he made the celebrated answer to a faint-hearted ally, who spoke doubtfully as to the dis- parity of numbers, " You forget to count God and the good cause, who are on our side." It will never be of any use in modern war- fare, but makes a good barrack and a most magnificent place for a pyrotechnic display for the delectation of young folk, in which -definition for these purposes may be included the whole of the population of France.
As I am writing a troop of acrobats pass along the green between this hotel and the sea, followed by a crowd of boys. There is the strong man in black velvet carrying the long balancing triangle, on which he is about to support the light fellow in yellow who walks by his side. There is an athletic fellow in crimson breeches, carrying a table on his head, and a clown with two chairs accompanying. There they have pitched on the green, and are going to begin, and the English boys are leaving their cricket, and the French boys their kites and indiarubber hand-balls, and a goodly ring is forming, out of which, if they are decent tumblers, I hope they may turn an honest franc or two.
They are not only decent but capital tumblers, the best I have seen for many a day, especially the man in crimson. He has balanced three glasses full of water on his forehead and then lain down on his back, and passed himself, tumblers and all, through two mall hoops. He has placed one chair upon the table, and then has tilted the second chair on two legs upon the seat of the first, and on this fearfully precarious foundation has been balanc- ing himself with his legs straight up in the air while I could count thirty 1 The strong man has just run up behind the man in yellow, who was standing with his legs apart, and, stooping, has put his head between the yellow man's legs and thrown him a backward somersault ! I must positively go down and give them half-a-franc. It is a swindle to look on at such good tumbling for nothing.
P.S.—Imagine my delight, Sir, when I got down on the green to find they were the tumblers of my native land. They joined a French circus for a tour some weeks back, but could get no money, and so broke off and are working their way home. They can speak no French, and find it very difficult to get leave to perform, as they have to do in all French towns. The crowd of English boys seemed to be doing their duty by them, so I hope they will speedily be able to raise their passage-money and return to the land of double stout and liberty.