Home >> British Encyclopedia >> Pediculvs to Ples 12 >> Peruke


hair, head, time, perukes, locks and heads

PERUKE. It appears that this term was originally applied to describe a fine natural head of long hair ; but whatever may have been the ancient use or mean ing of the word, it has now almost become obsolete, though it was for more than a century in constant application to those artificial heads of hair, made probably at first to conceal natural or accidental baldness, but which afterwards became so ridiculously fashionable, as to be worn in preference to the most beautiful locks, absurdly shaved off the head to make room for them.

Ancient authors might be quoted to prove that the great and luxurious of that time had recourse to this mode of defects, and of decorating the head ; nay, it might perhaps be proved, that the peruke of the Emperor Commo dus was more absurdly composed than any modern peruke has ever been ; and indeed it must be admitted, that a wig powdered with scrapings of gold, in ad dition to oils and glutinous perfumes, must have made a more wonderful ap pearance than our immediate ancestors ever witnessed. It was in the reign of Charles the First, that perukes were in troduced throughout Europe, when the moralists attacked them without Mercy, as they perceived that the folly of youth even extended to the cutting off nature's locks, to be replaced by the hair of the dead, and of horses, woven into a filthy piece of canvas. Admonition and ridi cule was, however, of little avail, and the clergy began to be affected by the gene ral mania. Those on the continent, being almost universally Roman Catholics, were so completely subject to their superiors, that the peruke was soon routed from their body ; but as the dignified clergy of England conceive that their consequence is increased by the enormous bushes of hair upon their heads, and the judg es have adopted their sentiments in this particular, it is probable many years will elapse before the shape and absurdity of two particular species of perukes are forgotton.

About the close of the seventeenth century the peruke was made to repre sent the natural curl of the hair, but in such profusion, that ten heads would not have furnished an equal quantity, as it flowed down the back, and hung over the shoulders, half way down the arms. By 1721, it had become fashionable to tie one half of it on the left side into a club. Between 1730 and 1740, the bag-wig Came into fashion, and the peruke was docked considerably, and sometimes plaited behind into a queue, though even till 1752 the long flowing locks maintain ed their influence. After 1770 those were rarely seen ; and since that time persons wearing perukes have generally had substantial reasons for so doing from baldness and complaints in the head. At one time, indeed, when the stern virtues of Brutus were much in vogue, the young men of Europe wore perukes of black or dark hair, dressed from his sta tues. Many particulars on this subject have been preserved by Mr. Malcolm, in his " Anecdotes of the Manners and Cus toms of London," from which we learn, that a young 'country-woman obtained 60/. for her head of hair in the year 1700, when human hair sold at 31. per ounce ; and in 1720, the grey locks of an aged woman sold for 501. after her de cease, as did wigs at 40/. each, of peculiar excellence.

A petition from the master peruke makers of London and Westminster, pre sented to the King in 1763, points out the final decline of their use to have tak en place at that time. In this they com plain of the public wearing their own hair ; and say, " That this mode, perni cious enough in itself to their trade, is rendered excessively more so by swarms of French hair-dressers already in those cities, and daily increasing."