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will invite us to go to her ball, no doubt, because it is her first ball, and she will find our name upon the list which she will borrow from one of her particular friends, who is also a particular friend of ourselves. And we shall go, in the first place, because Mrs. Smith's politeness deserves such an acknowledgment; and, in the second place, because we always enjoy the first coup d'œil of a handsome suite of rooms, brilliantly lighted, and made seducing with pretty faces and charming dresses, flowers, and fine music; and, in the third place, because we have acquired a habit of going where certain persons of our acquaintance go. But Mrs. Smith does not care a button whether we come to her house or stay at home, and we care as little, at heart, which we do. And as Mrs. Smith feels about us, so she will feel about nine-tenths of her guests; and as we feel about Mrs. Smith's ball, so will nine-tenths of her guests feel about it.
And this, we contend, is not at all a satisfactory state of things. For Mrs. Smith's ball being planned with care and anxiety, and provided for at great expense, and prepared with elaborate pains, ought to be an entertainment, and we ought to be anxious to go to it, and Mrs. Smith ought to be decently proud of her hospitalities, and she ought to derive a reasonable amount of honest complacency and agreeable satisfaction from her efforts to please, amuse, and gratify the circle of her friends and acquaintances. In one word, Mrs. Smith's ball, postponed on account of Lent, ought to be a festivity when it is finally given, and not an empty tedious frivolity. And why should it not be?
There is nothing intrinsically more empty and frivolous in the idea of a ball than in the idea of a procession, or a spectacle, of a parade of soldiers, or a regatta of yachts Greek etymologies give gravity, and the word we keep so lightly is weighted with antique dignity. Not that the Greeks gave balls. They had too low an estimate of woman for that. They danced, of course, as all the world has danced from the beginning; as the beauties of Memphis danced around the sacred bull, Apis, feeding that fortunate thunder-born beast with cakes and candies, and serving up to him, in exquisite cups of gold and ivory, the wonderful Nile water, more delicious than wine; as the Jews of the desert danced about
their golden calf, plagiarizing the paganism of the tyrants from whom they had but just escaped; as the daughters of Shiloh danced in the shadow (you cannot call it the shade) of the graceful palm-trees, when the bold sons of Benjamin came out from the dusk of the vineyards, and bore them away to be brides of the tribe. When Plato (who looked upon dancing as of divine invention, and held it to be worthy the gravest consideration of the highest intellects) describes the triple dances of the Greeks, he gives us no hint of anything at all resembling a ball. That splendid and stately “dance of the cranes," which Theseus disdained not to lead around the altar of Apollo, and Plutarch in vain endeavored to sound for its mystic meaning, was not less unlike a modern "German" than an average "leader of the German" is unlike Theseus. And you may go through a whole winter of New York, and a whole summer of Newport, missing not a single ball, nor the least "children's party," without seeing anything which shall, in the remotest degree, remind you of the Pyrrhic dance of the Spartans; as, for instance, of that Trichoriac figure in which old men opened the dance with singing, "Of old we were brave in war;" and the young men responded, "And we now are so!" and the treble choir of the children exultingly closed the proud national hymn, "And we in our time shall be bravest of all!"
Women danced before the Greeks, and danced for the Greeks, as they danced before the Romans, as they dance now for the dull lords of the East. Their grace and their beauty served to delight the indolent gaze of their masters, or to swell the pomp of pageants and of sacrificial shows; and, sometimes, in the simple villages of Hellas or of Italy, the rustic youths and maidens beat circles on the grass with rude saltations, rejoicing in their youth, and health, and strength, and in the simple music of their land.
But it was reserved for Christendom to emancipate and to refine the amusements as well as to sanctify and to harmonize the relations of the sexes, and the ball, in which women were to dance with men, partaking in an equal pleasure, and within one circle of self-respect, propriety, and courtesy, belongs to modern Christendom. The first ball was a protest, and a most
brilliant protest, against the degradation of woman, and history would have done well to erase from her tablets the record of a dozen conquerors in order to inscribe there the name of the high-spirited prince who inaugurated this great social institu. tion. We know of him only that he was an Italian, and that from Italy the ball traveled westward. In the chronicles of the middle ages the ball alternates with the banquet and the tournament, and marks the gradual progress of the race in all the finer arts of life. It was at a ball that the noble Order of the Garter grew up out of an act of prompt and kingly gallantry, adorned with words most knightly, just, and honorable; it was at a ball in Ghent that the queen of Philip the Handsome, of France, took such mortal spite, from the sight of the splendid dresses worn by the citizens' wives of Flanders, that she never gave her lord any peace till he proclaimed war against those rich and insolent parvenues; it was at a ball given by the Duchesse de Berri that the young King Charles VI., presenting himself, with six of his friends, masked as salvage men, was set fire to by the torch of the Duke of Orleans, and escaped with his life only to lose his wits more hopelessly than ever, and give his kingdom over more completely into the power of England; the lovely, witty, and accomplished Marguerite de Valois danced a minuet with such distracting grace, at a ball given by her brother Francis, that Don John of Austria, who had ridden post from Brussels to Paris simply for the pleasure of seeing her, went back too much crazed with admiration to talk of anything else for weeks, in private, or before the council of state. And the most splendid dances of the modern stage can hardly vie with the fantastic and brilliant imaginations which Braganzio di Botta summoned into existence to decorate the magnificent ball given by him, in 1489, to Galeazzo Visconti, Duke of Milan, on the occasion of his marriage with Isabella of Aragon. The story of this wonderful ball is to be read in all the cyclopædias, so we shall not inflict it upon our friends, but we beg to assure them that it is a story well worth the reading; for, from the festival of Bragazzio, not only the fêtes champêtres of Louis XV. and the Regency, but the ballets of France, and Germany, and Italy, and the opera itself, may be considered to
have borrowed no trifling portion of their lustre.
So far were our forefathers from esteeming the ball to be a light and frivolous institution, that the council of the church assembled at Trent, in 1562, to decide upon the great questions which then convulsed the Catholic world, and to reorganize the shattered and shaken dominion of the Holy See, thought it best to open their proceedings with a superb and stately ball. The festival was put under the patronage of Philip II. of Spain, and that sovereign opened the ball in person. All the beauty of northern Italy was assembled, to delight and do honor to the prince of the church and the right arm of Rome. The Cardinal Pallavicini does not give us a very detailed account of the affair, it is true, but he satisfies us so far as to inform us that the supper was excellent and elegant, the costumes of the ladies enchanting, and the dancing kept up with spirit far into the night; which is, perhaps, as much as could be expected of a cardinal, though far less than would have been afforded to us by a reporter for the daily press. Much more precise and abundant are the accounts that have come down to us of the balls which fascinated and amused the court of the Grand Monarque, and of his dissolute successors, in the days when France began to lead the civilization of the world. In those gay and glittering times, the ideas of the ball and of the ballet were still very much confounded; and the first ballet, in which women ever appeared upon the modern stage, was performed in Paris, by personages of the highest distinction. The
Triumph of Love" was worthily represented, we are told (and who can doubt it?), by the most charming ladies of the court, who danced with the most accomplished of the court seigneurs. The Dauphin, the Prince de Conti, and the Duc de Vermandois, made up the corps de ballet with the Dauphiness, the Princess de Conti, Mademoiselle de Nantes, and Mademoiselle de Poitiers.
This was, no doubt, a most delightful spectacle, and it was with such spectacles as these that the favorites of the king sought to gratify their master. His own entertainments were of a more imposing but hardly of so amusing a character, and as we have spoken in rather disparaging terms of the gayety of our own balls, we ought, in com
mor justice to Mrs. Smith, and our other ball-giving acquaintances, to set forth the unvarnished story of a regal ball in the time of Louis XIV, as an eye-witness has recorded it. The ball was given on the marriage of the Duke of Burgundy :
"The gallery of Versailles was divided into three parts by two gilded balustrades. The middle part made the central ballroom, and there, on a dais covered with exquisite gobelin tapestry, chairs of crimson velvet, tasseled and trimmed with gold, were set for the king, the king and queen of England, the Duchess of Burgundy, and the royal family. On the other three sides of this central space were prepared rows of very rich arm-chairs for the foreign ambassadors, foreign princes and princesses, the dukes and duchesses, and the grand officers of the crown, while seats were arrayed behind them for the high personages of the court and of the city. To the right and left were amphitheatres filled with spectators; and, to avoid all confusion, every one entered by a small gilded turnstile. In a separate circle were arranged the twenty-four violins, the six hautboys, and the six flutes of the royal orchestra. The gallery was lighted by gigantic crystal lustres, and an immense number of golden girandoles, filled with enormous wax candles. Every one invited had been ordered to come superbly dressed; the least expensive coats worn by the men cost three or four huudred dollars; some being of velvet embroidered in gold and silver, and lined with brocade at fifty crowns the yard, and others of cloth of gold or silver. The ladies were still more splendidly arrayed--their jewels making a magnificent show. Leaning over the balustrade, opposite to the king, I counted abont eight hundred persons, whose costumes made up a most charming spectacle.
"The Duke and Duchess of Burgundy opened the ball with a coranto, then she took the king of England, and the duke the queen of England, and the Queen of England took the king of France, and then the king of France took the Duchess of Burgundy, and so they went on changing and changing again, till all the princes and princesses of the blood had danced, each in the order of his or her rank. As there were not a few princes and princesses, this ceremony lasted a long time, and was
followed by an intermission, during which the Swiss guard brought in six tables superbly served, and set them down, each one being at liberty to help himself during half an hour. Besides these tables, a magnificent room, leading out of the gallery, was garnished with a vast number of vessels filled with all the essentials of a most exquisite collation. Some of the princes entered this chamber, took a few pomegranates, oranges, and comfits, and went out again; the public were then admitted, and everything disappeared in a moment."
Here we have "the one touch of nature making kin" the court of the Fourteenth Louis with the youngest New York clamorous for supper!
"In still another chamber, two magnificent buffets were arranged, with all kinds of wines, cordials, and refreshing drinks; and there a great number of the royal servants gave any one whatever he wished during the whole time of the ball, which lasted till morning. The dancing, during the whole time, was of the most serious, grave, and elevated character."
If the reader yawns over this account, written by a reverential admirer of the Grand Monarque, who was, probably, only too happy "to lean over the balustrade opposite to the king," and count the eight hundred embroidered and brocaded guests, in the light of the royal countenance, he may imagine what it must have been to stand for five mortal hours in the midst of that glittering crowd to watch the ceremonious dancing of the numerous "princes and princesses of the blood." If we cannot rival the balls of the great Louis in splendor, at least we may console ourselves with the thought, that it will be difficult for us to eclipse them in stupidity. Mrs. Smith will have no Versailles gallery divided into three parts by gilded balustrades, wherein to exhibit herself and the princes and princesses of her house-nor will her guests be glorious in embroidered coats and diamond-hilted swords--but she can easily have better music than the violins, hautboys, and flutes of the Grand Monarque could make for him; and she may be sure that her guests, let their misconduct at supper be never so bad, cannot outdo the brilliant crowd of courtiers who "pillaged the collation in a few minutes."
Still it must be remembered that all the
balls of the ancien régime were not state balls, and that those which were not state balls were far more delightful than any balls of which we have had any experience. The fêtes given by Fouquet to his royal master at Vaux-le-Vicomte-the balls of Colbert at Sceaux-the delicious entertainments provided for the court by the financier, Dupin, at Chenonceaux, the paradise of Touraine-the ballets of Fontainebleau -these were the social wonders of the most pleasure-loving and pleasure-seeking society that ever existed. And they were wonders worth thinking of, because the secret of their fascination lay not at all in the license of the age, but in the artistic skill with which they were devised and arranged. Here, it seems to us, is the fatal defect of our American society. We treat our amusements as matters of no importance. Instead of endeavoring to make the entertainments of the social world really entertaining—instead of bestowing upon them the thought and reflection which they deserve-those of our people, who think at all of entertaining, do not think in the least how they shall entertain, nor make any efforts to secure their object. They "give a ball," and there is the end of it. The idea of imprinting upon that ball any particular cachet of a character to make it peculiar in its charm, and to render it worth remembering, rarely enters any one's brain. And so all of us, who do not dance, drop into a monotonous round of exhausting conversation, carried on by fits and starts in the intervals of dancing; and those, who do dance, dance under every possible disadvantage-crowded into an inadequate space, and jostled by spectators who are not "balustraded off,” as were the courtiers at Versailles, but press into the centre of the quadrille and intercept the orbit of the polkers at the most fatal tangents.
And it is the natural consequence of this state of things, that nothing is so rare an ornament of an American ball-room as a face bright with the expression of positive enjoyment, or even absolutely free from the desolate and lacklustre air of intense ennui.
Let any one announce a performance of private theatricals, a fancy ball, or even an amateur concert, and, instantly, the whole world is eager with interest and
curiosity. So flat and weary is the surface of our so-called "festive" life, that the mere chance of seeing a new house affords a brief excitement quite disproportionate to the attractions, actual or probable, of any house built, or likely to be built, in our city.
Do these things prove, then, that all amusement is frivolous, or simply that our people do not know how to amuse themselves? Clearly, we think the latter; and we do not limit our criticism to the so-called fashionable world. The vast middle classes, especially of our city population, blunder through life in a still blinder and more dangerous way.
The developments made in the course of the Bond-street tragedy-the revelations of Sir Pandarus in the post-office-the exhibitions of "gift ladies" and "gift gentlemen”—all point in one direction. For the most excitable people on earth no adequate and legitimate excitements of a healthy nature are provided—to the people among whom more opportunities of idleness and mischief exist than among any other, no entertaining and refining occupations are, in any sufficient measure, offered.
While our tradesmen and mechanics, our merchants and our professional men are working all day long, each in his vocation, they all and each seem wholly to forget that they have left, in their homes, wives, sons, and daughters, placed by their efforts in positions of ease, and relieved of any absorbing cares, but almost unprovided with just and commendable facilities for consuming profitably and pleasantly their wealth of nervous life and fallow time.
Yet one would say, that reflections of this sort might not unbecomingly be made by the heads of families; and we submit it to such persons whether the care of the amusements of a great people—the culture of the arts which occupy with grace the leisure earned by labor-be not worthy the gravest attention of sedate and earnest men?—whether theatrical criticism, and artistic criticism, and questions of mere social entertainment and private pleasureseeking, do not take upon themselves an aspect serious enough to demand a Lenten sermon, when their relations to private happiness and to public virtue are thus suddenly flashed upon the mind?
A Magazine of Literature, Science, and Art.
VOL. IX.-MAY, 1857.-NO. LIII.
THE TRAIL, THE TRACE, AND THE WAGON-ROAD;
BEING SKETCHES OF WILD LIFE WEST OF THE MISSOURI.
HE halfbreed had ridden through the day with more than the usual recklessness of his class. He had pushed his gallant gray horse down the slopes of steep ravines, and urged him against the steep hillsides of the winding trail, until the less vigorous animals of the travelers were beaten to a walk.
The tall pine-trees threw long shadows across the narrow mountain path, when Kaya suddenly reined up: "Behold the first water of the western slope," he said; "have I kept my faith?" "What does the wild man mean?" cried Wilson. "You are thoroughly versed in the eccentricities of these worthy savages; it is still a long way to the Mission; ask him to explain himself." Thus addressed, the New Englander turned to their guide, and requested him to tell them why he had halted. "It is not night," he said;