“The Natural History of the Flirt”

The frontispiece for "The Natural History of the Flirt," circa 1848.

“The Natural History of the Flirt,” by Albert Smith, published in 1848. This is just the kind of book that I would have flipped over while doing my research for Encyclopedia of the Exquisite. But it’s never to late to flip for a book that begins with the lines: “A nous graceful, glorious Girls! Come on, fair young witches, who alone determine whether, by your presence or absence the most splendid evening party every given shall be a brilliant succès or a dismal failure…” The book whispers of champagne, dancing the daring polka, and blushing in the twilight. The girls scent the evening air with “patchouli and Bouquet de la Victoria.”

Click here to check out the book thanks to kindly googlebooks (The Natural History of the Flirt)

On the opening pages the author debates the definition of the word flirt, deciding it either means “To run about perpetually; to be unsteady and fluttering” or “a pert young hussey,” but also so many other things. Mostly he offers a thousand ways by which this beguiling creature can be recognized. “The quadrille finished, the Flirt will not take any refreshment,” Smith explains, “but sits down at once by her chaperon, rather cross; until she sees ‘Charley Lincoln’ through the muslin of the front drawing-room doorway as he comes up stairs; and then her eyes sparkle once more.”

Oh, Charley Lincoln!