Monday, August 06, 2007

History of Boots...

July, 1852
Godey's Lady's Book
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Vol XLV Page 70



IF we investigate the monuments of the remotest nations of antiquity, we shall find that the earliest form of protection for the feet partook of the nature of sandals. The most ancient representations we possess of scenes in ordinary life are the sculptures and paintings of early Egypt, and these the investigations of travelled scholars from most modern civilized countries have, by their descriptions and delineations, made familiar to us, so that the habits and manners, as well as the costume of this ancient people, have been handed down to the present time, by the work of their own hands, with so vivid a truthfulness, that we feel as conversant with their domestic manners and customs as with those of any modern nation to which the book of the traveller would introduce us. Not only do their pictured relics remain to give us an insight into their mode of life, but a vast quantity of articles of all kinds, from the tools of the workmen to the elegant fabrics which once decorated the boudoir of the fair ladies of Memphis and Carnac three thousand years ago, are treasured up in the museums of various countries.

With these materials, it is in no wise difficult to carry our history of shoemaking back to the earliest times, and even to look upon the shoemaker at his work in the early days of Thotmes the Third, who ascended the throne of Egypt, according to Wilkinson, 1495 years before Christ, and during whose reign the Exodus of the Israelites occurred. The first of our engravings contain copies of this very curious painting as it existed upon the walls of Thebes, when the Italian scholar Rossellini copied it for his great work on Egypt. The shoemakers are both seated upon low stools— (real specimens of such articles may be seen in the British Museum, London)— and are both busily employed in the formation of the sandals then usually worn in Egypt; the first workman is piercing with his awl the leather thong, at the side of the sole, through which the straps were passed which secured the sandal to the foot; before him is a low sloping bench, one end of which rests upon the ground: his fellow-workman is equally busy sewing a shoe, and tightening the thong with his teeth, a primitive mode of working which is occasionally indulged in at the present day. The tools and manufactured sandals lie around, and are here represented: they bear, in some instances, a resemblance to those used in the present day; the central instrument having the precise shape of the shoemaker's awl still in use, so very unchanging are articles of utility. In the same manner, the semicircular knife used by the ancient Egyptians between three and four thousand years ago, is precisely similar to that of our modern curriers, and is thus represented in a painting at Thebes of that remote antiquity. The workman, it will be noticed, cuts the leather upon a sloping bench, exactly like that of the shoemaker already engraved.

The warmth and mildness of the East rendered a close, warm shoe unnecessary; and, indeed, in the present day they partake there more of the character of slippers, and the foot, thus unconfined by tight shoes, and always free in its motion, retains its full power and pliability; and the custom still retained in the East, of holding a strap of leather or other substance between the toes, is represented in the Theban paintings; the foot thus becoming a useful second to the hand.

Many specimens of the shoes and sandals of the ancient Egyptians may also be seen in the British Museum. Wilkinson, in his work on the "Manners and Customs" of this people, says, "Ladies and men of rank paid great attention to the beauty of their sandals; but, on some occasions, those of the middle classes who were in the habit of wearing them preferred walking barefooted; and in religious ceremonies, the priests frequently took them off while performing their duties in the Temple."

The sandals varied slightly in form; those worn by the upper classes, and by women, were usually pointed and turned up at the end, like our skates and the Eastern slippers of the present day. Some had a sharp, flat point; others were nearly round. They were made of a sort of woven or interlaced work, of palm-leaves and papyrus stalks, or other similar materials; sometimes of leather, and were frequently lined within with cloth, on which the figure of a captive was painted: that humiliating position being thought suitable to the enemies Of their country, whom they hated and despised, an idea agreeing perfectly with the expression which so often occurs in the hieroglyphic legends accompanying a king's name, where his valor and virtues are recorded on the sculptures— "You have trodden the impure Gentiles under your powerful feet."

The example selected for Fig. 1 is in the British Museum, beneath the sandal of a mummy of Harsontiotf; and the captive figure is evidently, from feature and costume, a Jew: it thus becomes a curious illustration of Scripture history. Figs. 2 and 3 delineate two fine examples of sandals formed, as above described, of the leaf of the palm; they were brought from Egypt by the late Mr. Salt, consul general, and formed part of the collection sold in London, after his death, and are now in the British Museum. They are very different from each other in their construction, and are of that kind worn by the poorer classes: flat slices of the palm-leaf, which lap over each other in the centre, form the sole of Fig. 4, and a double band of twisted leaves secures and strengthens the edge; a thong of the strong fibres of the same plant is affixed to each side of the instep and was secured round the foot. The other, Fig. 2, is more elaborately platted, and has a softer look; it must, in fact, have been as a pad to the foot, exceedingly light and agreeable in the arid climate inhabited by the people for whom such sandals were constructed: the knot at each side to which the thong was affixed still remains.

The sandals with curved toes alluded to above, and which frequently appear upon Egyptian sculpture, and generally upon the feet of the superior classes, are exhibited in the woodcut here given and in the Berlin Museum one is preserved of precisely similar form, which has been engraved by Wilkinson, and is copied in Fig. 1. It is particularly curious, as showing how such sandals were held upon the feet, the thong which crosses the instep being connected with another passing over the top of the foot, and secured to the sole between the great toe and that next to it, so that the sole was held firmly, however the foot moved, and yet it allowed the sandal to be cast off at pleasure.

Wilkinson says that "shoes, or low boots, were also common in Egypt; but these are believed to have been of late date, and to have belonged to Greeks; for, since no persons are represented in the paintings wearing them, except foreigners, we may conclude they were not adopted by the Egyptians, at least in a Pharaonic age. They were of leather, generally of green color, laced in front by thongs, which passed through small loops on either side, and were principally used, as in Greece and Etruria, by women."

One of the close-laced shoes is given in Fig. 3, from a specimen in the British Museum; it embraces the foot closely, and has a thong or two over the instep for drawing it tightly over the foot, something like the half boot of the present day: the sole and upper leather are all in one piece, sewn up the back and down the front of the foot, a mode of construction practised in England as late as the fourteenth century.

The elegantly ornamented boot here given is copied from a Theban painting, and is worn by a gayly-dressed youth from one of the countries bordering on Egypt: it reaches very high, and is a remarkable specimen of the taste for decoration, which thus early began to be displayed upon this article of apparel.

In Sacred Writ are many early notices of shoes: when Moses exhorts the Jews to obedience (Deut. xxix.), he exclaims, "Your clothes are not waxen old upon you, and thy shoe is not waxen old upon thy foot." In the Book of Ruth (chap. iv.), we have a curious instance of the important part, performed by the shoe in the ancient days of Israel, in sealing any important business: "Now this was the manner in former time in Israel, concerning redeeming, and concerning changing, for to confirm all things; a man plucked off his shoe, and gave it to his neighbor; and this was a testimony in Israel." Ruth, and all the property of three other persons, are given over to Boaz by the act of the next kinsman, who gives to him his shoe in the presence of witnesses. The ancient law compelled the eldest brother, or nearest kinsman by her late husband's side, to marry a widow, if her husband died childless. The law of Moses provided an alternative, easy in itself, but attended with some degree of ignominy. The woman was, in public court, to take off his shoe, spit before his face, saying, "So shall it be done unto that man that will not build up his brother's house;" and probably the fact of this refusal was stated in the genealogical registers in connection with his name, which is probably what is meant by his "name shall be called in Israel, the house of him that hath his shoe loosed." (Deut. xxv.)

The editor of "Knight's Pictorial Bible," who notices these curious laws, also adds that the use of the shoe in the transactions with Boaz are perfectly intelligible; the taking off the shoe denoting the relinquishment of the right and the dissolution of the obligation in the one instance, and its transfer in the other. The shoe is regarded as constituting possession, nor is this idea unknown to ourselves, it being conveyed in the homely proverbial expression by which one man is said to "stand in the shoes of another;" and the vulgar idea "of throwing an old shoe after you for luck," is typical of a wish that temporal gifts or good fortune may follow you. The author last quoted says that, even at ,the present time, the use of the shoe, as a token of right or occupancy, may be traced very extensively in the East: and, however various and dissimilar the instances may seem at first view, the leading idea may be still detected in all. Thus among the Bedouins, when a man permits his cousin to marry another, or when a husband divorces his runaway wife, he usually says, "She was my slipper, I have cast her off." (Burckhardt's "Bedouins," p. 65.) Sir F. Henniker, in speaking of the difficulty he had in persuading the natives to descend into the crocodile mummy pits, in consequence of some men having lost their lives there, says, "Our guides, as if preparing for certain death, took leave of their children; the father took the turban from his own head, and put it upon that of his son; or put him in his place, by giving him his shoes, 'a dead man's shoes.' "In Western Asia, slippers left at the door of an apartment denote that the master or mistress is engaged, and no one ventures on intrusion, not even a husband, though the apartment be his wife's. Messrs. Tyerman and Bennet, speaking of the termagants of Benares, say, "If domestic or other business calls off one of the combatants before the affair is duly settled, she coolly thrusts her shoe beneath her basket, and leaves both upon the spot, to signify that she is not satisfied:" meaning to denote, by leaving her shoe, that she kept possession of the ground and the argument during her unavoidable absence.

From all these instances it would appear that this employment of the shoe may, in some respects, be considered analogous to that which prevailed in the Middle Ages, of giving a glove as a token of investiture when bestowing lands and dignities.

It should be observed that the same Hebrew word (naal) signifies both a sandal and a shoe, although always rendered shoe in our translation of the Old Testament. Although the shoe is mentioned in Genesis and other books of the Bible, little concerning its form or manufacture can be gleaned. That it was an article of common use among the ancient Israelites, we may infer from the passage in Genesis, chap. xiv. 23, the first mention we have of this article, where Abraham makes oath to the King of Sodom that he will not take from a thread even to a shoe-latchet," thus assuming its common character.

The Gibeonites (Joshua ix. 5㬉) "came with old shoes and clouted (mended) upon their feet," the better to practise their deceit, and therefore they said, "Our shoes are become old by reason of the very long journey."

Isaiah "walked three years naked and barefoot:" he went for this long period without shoes, contrary to the custom of the people, and as "a wonder unto Egypt and Ethiopia."

That it became an article, of refinement and luxury is evident from the many other notices given, and the Jewish ladies seem to have been very particular about their sandals: thus, we are told in the Apocryphal book of Judith, although Holofernes was attracted by the general richness of her dress and personal ornaments, yet it was her sandals ravished his eyes;" and the bride in Solomon's Song is met with the exclamation, "How beautiful are thy feet with sandals, O prince's daughter!"

The ancient bas-reliefs at Persepolis, and the neighborhood of Babylon, second only, in their antiquity and interest to those of Egypt, furnish us with examples of the boots and shoes of the Persian kings, their nobles, and attendants; and they were executed, as appears from historical as well as internal evidence, in the days of Xerxes and Darius.

From these sources we here select three specimens: Fig. 1 is a half-boot, reaching considerably above the ankle, and it is worn by the attendant who has charge of a chariot, upon a bas-relief now in the British Museum, brought from Persepolis by Sir R. Ker Porter, by whom it was first engraved and described in his interesting volumes of travels in that district. Fig. 2, also from Persepolis, and engraved in the work just quoted, delineates another kind of boot or high shoe, reaching only to the ankle, round which it is secured by a band, and tied in front in a knot, the two ends of the band hanging beneath it; this shoe is very common upon the feet of these figures, and is generally worn by soldiers or the upper classes; the attendants or councillors round the throne of these early sovereigns frequently wear such shoes. Fig. 3, seen upon the feet of personages in the same rank of life, is here copied from a Persepolitan bas-relief representing a soldier in full costume; it is a remarkably interesting example, as it very clearly shows the transition state of this article of dress, being something between a shoe and a sandal: in fact, a shoe may be considered as a covered sandal, and in the instance before us, the part we now term "upper leather" consists of little more than the lacings of the sandals rendered much broader than usual, and fastened by buttons along the top of the foot; the shoe is thus rendered peculiarly flexible, as the openings over the instep allow of the freest movement. Such were the forms of the earliest shoes.

Close boots reaching nearly to the knee, where they are met by a wide trowser, are not uncommon upon these sculptures, being precisely the same in shape and appearance as those worn by the modern Cossacks. Indeed, there is nothing in the way of boots that may not be found upon the existing monuments of early nations, precisely resembling the modern ones. The little figure here given might pass for a copy of boots worn by one of the soldiers of King William the Third's army, and would not be unworthy of Uncle Toby himself, yet it is carefully copied from a most ancient specimen of Etruscan sculpture in the possession of Inghirami, who has engraved it in his learned work, the "Monumenti Etruschi:" the original represents an augur or priest, whose chief duty was to report and e~ plain supernatural signs.