There is not half enough innocent amusement in England, and, therefore, there is far too much vice. I should like to see dancing come in and drinking go out (as it would do) among our lower orders. I should like to see Clod clap his heels together on the village-green, instead of clogging his senses with bad beer at the village public-house. They do so in France, and the French are a sober race compared with the English. It would improve the health of the women and the morals of the men. But this is not my present affair. The advantage of the ball in the upper classes is that it brings young people together for a sensible and innocent recreation, and takes them away from silly, if not bad ones, that it gives them exercise, and that the general effect of the beauty, elegance, and brilliance of a ball is to elevate rather than deprave the mind.
Balls are the paradise of daughters, the purgatory of chaperons, and the Pandemonium of Paterfamilias. But when he has Arabella's ball-dresses to pay for; when mamma tells him he cannot have the brougham to-night, because of Lady Fantile's dance; when he finds the house suddenly filled with an army of upholsterer's men, the passage barricaded with cane-bottomed benches, the drawing-room pillaged of its carpet and furniture, and in course of time himself turned bodily out of his own library with no more apology than, "We want it for the tea tonight;" when, if he goes to bed, there is that blessed oh! yes, blessed horn going on one noto all night long, and, if he stops up has no room to take refuge in, and must by force of circumstances appear in the ball-room among people of whom he does not know one quarter, and who will perhaps kindly put the final stroke to his misery by mistaking him for his own butler; when Paterfara. undergoes this and more, he has no right to complain, and call it all waste of time and pure lolly. Will he call it so when Arabella announces that she is engaged to the young and wealthy Sir Thysse Thatte. Bart., and that it was at one ball he met her, at another he flirted, at a third he courted, and at a fourth offered? Will he call it so when he learns that it is the balls and parties innocent amusements which have kept his son Augustus from the gaming-table, and Adolphug from curafoa? Perhaps he will give them a worse epithet when they have killed Ada and worn out her mother. But then whose fault was that? Est modus in rebus, and balls in moderation are as different from balls in excess as gun-practice at Woolwich from gun-practice at Delhi.
Balls can only be given often by the rich, but ball-goers are expected to turn ball-givers once a year at least, and your one dance, if well arranged, will cost you as much as your dinners for the whole season. It is not often then that people who have no daughters, and are too old to dajice themselves, give a ball; and, as a rule, if you cannot afford to do it in good style, it is better to leave it alone. In London, however, no one will blame you for not giving a dance. The difficulty, then, is not to find balls enough to go to, but time enough to go to all.
When you have made up your mind to give a ball, and have succeeded in fixing a day when there will be no very grand affair, such as a court-ball, to take your guest away, the first thing to do is to send the invitations.
"How many shall we ask, Arabella?"
"Oh! At least two hundred, mamma. I do so like a large ball."
"Nonsense, my dear, our rooms won t hold eighty with comfort."
"Then there is the staircase."
"A pleasant prospect for late comers."
"And the hall."
"Where they will have the society of the footmen, very agreeable."
"And the conservatory," urges Arabella.
"No my child, that is reserved for flirtations, short, if we have more than a hundred, it will be a terrible crush."
"But, mamma, a crush is quite the fashion, people here in London don't go to balls to dance."
"What for then, Miss Wisdom?"
"To say they have been there; to say it was a frightful crush at the Joneses; to see their neighbors tilt sure."
"And to be melted with the heat."
"Well, we can ice them, mamma."
However, Arabella is partly right. In London, and during the season, if a ball is given as a formality and the rooms are not large, it is better to give up the of comfortable dancing, and have the renomnve crush. All the gentlemen who failed to get into drawing-room, and all the young ladies whose dress were hopelessly wrecked, will execrate, but still remember you, and it is something to be remembered in London, whether well or ill. So that when you have called your guests together as close as sheep in a fold, allowed them to take an hour to climb the stairs, and half an hour to get down again, given them a supper from Gunter s, with champagne of the quality which induced impudent Brumell to ask for "some more of that cider; very good cider that," you have done the notorious if not the agreeable thing, and Mrs. Fitzjones ball will be talked of and remembered. But there are better ways of achieving this highly desirable notoriety of three days duration.
Any number over one hundred constitutes a "large ball," below that number it is simply "a ball, "and under fifty", a dance." I have been at a ball of ten thousand, as large as the garrison of Paris itself, given by Madame Hausmaim at the Hotel de Ville in that city, and yet, though it was not the thing" to dance there, the rooms looked almost empty, so many and so large were they. On the other hand, I have been at the Tuileries when there was not a tenth of that number, and found the dancing confined to one little spot in the long gallery, about as large as an ordinary London drawing-room. In short, the numbers must be proportioned to the size of the rooms, with this proviso, that the more you have, the more brilliant, the fewer you have, the more enjoyable it will be.
In making your list, you must not take in all your acquaintance, but only all those who are moveable; the marionettes, in fact. Middle-aged people think it a compliment to be asked to a ball about as much as the boa-constrictor in the Regent's Park would. Both he and they like to be fed, and after five-and-thirty, it is laborious not only to dance, but even to look at dancing.
"What shall we do for gentleman, mamma? I have counted up thirty-eight young ladies who dance, and only twenty-five partners for them."
In some places this is a question to which there is answer but despair. Young men are at a premium in the ranks of Terpsichore as much as those of death, and they must be bribed to join by as large a bounty, in the shape of a good supper. "I shan t go to the Fitzjoneses," yawns De Boots of the Scotch Muffineers," the champagne was undrinkable last year, and the pate de foie gras tasted like kitten." How De Boots of the Muffineers comes to know the taste of kitten does not transpire.
"Well, my love," says mamma, " we must get some intimate friends to bring a young man or two."
Thereupon there is a casting up of who knows whom, and whom it would be best to commission as recruiting-sercrcant. But mamma, Arabella, and the intimate ami dela maison may talk and write and labor, they will never make up the full war complement, and wall-flowers will nourish still. This system of "bringing a friend is a very bad one, and should be avoided. It reminds me of a story of worthy Mrs. P, who had Junofs house in Paris, and in its magnificent rooms gave some of the largest and most brilliant balls, but owing to the "friend" system, very mixed. So much so that on one occasion a gentleman went up to her and told her that there was one of the swell mob present. Mrs. P was deaf and amiable " Dear me," she replied, "is there really 1 he has had some supper." But the disciple of Fagan had taken care of himself; he had not only had supper, but when he had done using his fork and spoon; had, in the neatest manner, put them away in his pocket so that the next time I went to Mrs. P s, I found a mouchard sitting near the door, behind a large book. I was asked my name and address, and doubtless my description was taken down too. I found that ladies as well as gentlemen were treated in this way.
Your best plan, therefore, is to invite only one-third more than your rooms will hold, for you may be sure that more than that number will disappoint you. The invitations should be sent out three weeks beforehand, and you need not expect answers, except from those who have an excuse for not accepting.
The requisites for an agreeable ball are good ventilation, good arrangment, a good floor, good music, a good supper, and good company. The arrangements are perhaps more important than any other item, and in this country they are little understood or greatly neglected. Yet the enjoyment of the dancers is materially increased by the brillance and elegance of the details, beauty and dress are enhanced by good lighting or proper colors, and the illusion of a fairy like scene may be brought up by judicious management, and the concealment of everything that does not strictly accord with the gaiety. In Paris, where balls, in spite of the absence of supper, are more elegant than anywhere else, a vast deal of effect and freshness is secured by the employment of shrubs, plants, and flowers, and these may be freely used without making your rooms fantastic. Thus that odious entrance from the kitchen stairs, which yawns upon the lobby of most London houses, should be concealed by a thick hedge of rhododendrons in pots ; the balustrades of the staircase and gallery should be woven with evergreens, and all the fire-places should be concealed by plenty of plants in flower. In Paris, again, the musicians are unseen, and the strains of the piano, horn, flageolet, and violin proceed from behind a flowery bank, artfully raised in one corner of the ballroom.
It is a rare thing in London to find more than four or five rooms en suite, and often the number does nor exceed two. In the "flats" of the large French houses, you have often as many as seven or eight rooms opening one into another, and so much is the advantage of space recognized, that a bed-room even is opened at the end of the suite, if necessary. I have danced in a room where the grand bed was standing in an alcove, scarcely concealed by thin muslin curtains, and disguised with a coverlet of embroidered white satin. But in England any sacrifice should be made to secure a refreshment-room, if not a supper-room, on the same floor as the ball-room, nothing being more trying to ladies dresses than the crush down and up the stairs. A cloak-room down stairs for the ladies, with one or two maids to assist them : a tea and coffee room, with at least two servants ; and a hat-room for gentlemen, are indispensable. If the ball is a large one, numbered tickets should be given for the cloaks and hats.
Up stairs the color and lighting of the rooms is essential. The ball-room especially should be that which has the lightest paper; and if there be dark curtains, particularly red ones, they must be taken down and replaced by light ones. The best color for a ball-room is very pale yellow. The light should conic from the walls, heightened by strong reflectors. Chandeliers are dangerous, and throw a downward shadow ; at any rate, wax should always be replaced by globe lamps. After the Tuileries balls, we often returned with complete epaulettes of wax-spots on our shoulders, if in moments of carelessness we had stood under the chandeliers. Gas is heating, and throws rather a sickly glare.
How can we dance well without a proper ground? It was all very well for nymphs and satyrs to "trip it on the light fantastic toe" over greensward and pebbly paths, but then they did not waltz a deux temps. A carpet-dance" is a bad dance, and the cloth drawn over the Kid derminster is seldom tight enough, and never so good as a floor. English people have as great a horror of taking up their carpets as Frenchmen are supposed to have of washing their necks. Probably the amount of dust which would meet their gaze is too appalling to think of. Then, again, English boards are of a wood which it is not easy to polish. Commend me to the old oak-floors, which, with a little bees-wax, come out as dark as ebony, and help the unskilled foot to glide. However, a polished floor, whatever the wood, is always the best thing to dance on and if you want to give a ball, and not only a crush, you should hire a man who, with a brush under one foot, and a slipper on the other, will dance over the floor for four or five hours, till you can almost see your face in it. Above all, take care that there is not bees-wax enough to blacken the ladies shoes. It is the amount of rubbing which must give it the polish.
Four musicians are enough for a private ball. If the room is not large, do away with the horn; the flageolet is less noisy, and marks the time quite as well. A piano and violin form the mainstay of the band ; but if the room be large, a larger band may be introduced to great advantage. The dances should be arranged beforehand, and, for large balls you should have printed a number of double cards, containing on the one side a list of the dances; on the other, blank spaces to be filled up by the names of partners. A small pencil should be attached to each card, which should be given to each guest in the cloak room. Every ball opens with a quadrille, followed by a waltz. The number of the dances varies generally from eighteen to twenty-four, supper making a break after the fourteenth dance. Let us suppose you have twenty-one dances ; then seven of these should be quadrilles, three of which may be lancers. There should next be seven waltzes, four galops, a polka, a polka-mazurka, and some other dance.
We come at last to what some people of bad taste think the most important part, the eating and drinking. As a first rule, it may be laid down that nothing should be handed in a ball. A refreshment-room is, - therefore, indispensable. The ladies are to be first considered in this matter. The refreshments may be simple, comprising tea, lemonade, that detestable concoction called negus, iced sherbet, ices, wafers, cakes, and bonbons. In French parties they give you, towards the end of the evening, hot chocolate, and this is coming into fashion in England, and is certainly very refreshing. In the south of Germany a lady asks you to fetch her a glass of beer; in Munich, this is customary even in the court circles. There is a terrible prejudice against beer in England, but it is perhaps the best thing to drink after dancing. Fancy our pretty Misses quaffing their pint of Bass! Yet why not? In Germany and France, and now, too, in England, the favorite bonbon is a chestnut or slip of orange in a coat of candied sugar. I remember well at Munich a trick that was played on an old geheim-rath, who was known to have a violent passion for oranges fflaa es, "and suspected of carrying them away in his pockets in large quantities. A number of young officers managed to stuff his coat-pockets with these bonbons without his discovering it, and then one of them, assuming great interest in the old gentleman, induced him to sit down for a little chat. When he got up again there was a stream of orange juice issuing from each coat-tail, and the old man pottered about quite unconscious of the amusement he excited.
The supper, of course, has a separate room, which must be well lit. Of its contents, as I am not a confectioner, I can say nothing. Two things I can say : Ice everything (in a London season) that can be conveniently iced, and let there be nothing that requires carving. The fowls and birds should, therefore, all be cut up. The supper hour in London is generally midnight, after which it goes on till the end of the ball. In England, it is usually served with much expense and display on a table, round which all the dancers stand ; but in France, even at the Tuileries, it is arranged on long buffets, as in our public balls, the servants standing behind, and thus saving a vast deal of pushing about, and much trouble to the gentlemen.
Another importation from France, is the custom of giving hot soup at supper, and a very good one it is. In fact, hot things are still to be desired for supper, and always will be acceptable. At a ball no one sits down to supper; at a small dance the ladies sit and the gentleman stand behind them. A lady should never drink more than one glass of champagne, nor a man more than two. There is a modern custom which saves the pockets of ball-givers, and is most grateful to dancers, that of giving the men bottled beer. No man of sense will drink bad gooseberry when he can get good Bass. The latter refreshes more, and intoxicates less ; but until we become sensible on this point, champagne will remain as indispensable an element of the ball-supper as trifle, tipsy-cake, and mayonnaise; which last, if made with fish, is the best dish you can eat at this meal. I now pass to the etiquettes of the ball-room.
In the days when bows were made down to an angle of 45, and it took two minutes to sink and two to rise in a curtsey, the givers of balls must have been punished for their entertainment by a stiffness the next day quite as trying as that of the young gentleman who has followed the hounds for the first time in his life. As for the worthy Prefect and Madame la Prefcte de la Seine, they would have been carried away lifeless with fatigue before the half of the thousands had had their bow in the receiving-room of the Hotel de Villc at Paris. In the present day the muscles of the mouth are brought more into requisition, and for the time being the worst of Xantippes must turn into an angel of amiability if she gives a ball, lady of the house must, in short, linger till supper-time in the neighborhood of the door by which her guests enter the rooms; she must have a pleasant smile for everybody; and, if possible, she should know everybody's name, and how many they are in family. To a large ball you ask a great number of people with whom you have a slight acquaintance, and of course a number of gentlemen arrive who may be your husband s or son s friend s or recruits levied by an ami de la malson. To these a bow rather more inclined than to your own friends, and a particularly amiable smile, is necessary; but in order to put them quite at their ease, you should be able to come forward and say some little polite phrase or other. "Are we not to have the pleasure of seeing more of your party?" perhaps you ask, when a mamma and one daughter are announced. But if there are no more of them to come, how awkward for you and them! So too it is wise to avoid asking after relations, unless you are quite sure about their existence. What can the bereaved widower say or look, when in the excess of your amiability you inquire " How is Mrs.?" The master of the house, too, if he is not gone out of town "on business," for that night, should be in the neighborhood of his spouse, in order to introduce to her any of his own recruits. The sons will hang about the same quarter for the same purpose, but the daughters will be otherwise occupied. It is their duty to see that the dances are formed, and a well-bred young lady does not dance till she has found partners for all the young ladies or as many of them as can be supplied from the ranks of the recruits present. Now and then you will see her dart anxiously out upon the landing, to press into the service those languid loungers who are sure to be hanging about the doors. She has the right to ask a gentleman to dance without having a previous acquaintance, but she must be careful how she uses it. I have known a case where a distinguished young man having declined her invitation to dance, but being pressed by "I can't make up the Lancers without you," somewhat reluctantly accepted, performed his part so well, that his partner was quite eprisc with him, and even ventured on a little flirtation. You can imagine her dismay, when later in the evening she saw her charming -acquaintance carrying up a pile of plates from the kitchen to the supper-room. For the first time in her life she had danced with an occasional waiter. The genus wall-flower is one that grows well in every ball-room, but a young lady, however plain, however stupid, can if she dances well always have some partners. The great thing is to secure the first, who, on retiring, will say to some of his friends, "I'll tell you who dances well; that girl in pink, Miss A, I advise you to get introduced to her." The right of introducing rests mainly with the ladies and gentlemen of the house, but a chaperon may present a gentleman to her charge; or if you, being a man, are intimate with a young lady, you may ask her permission to introduce some friend. It is in very bad taste to refuse this permission, but if a lady has an insuperable objection to the person in question, she may decline to dance altogether, or refer the applicant to her chaperon. In France, as I have said, no introduction is needed, though English young ladies generally expect it even at French parties. At any rate, if a gentleman comes up to her and asks her to dance, she must not reply, as a celebrated English beauty once did at the Tuileries, "I have not the pleasure of your acquaintance," by which she acquired the reputation of very bad breeding.
A young lady must be very careful how she refuses to dance with a gentleman. Next to refusing an offer of marriage, few things are so likely to draw upon her the indignation of the rejected applicant, for unless a good reason is given, he is apt to take it as evidence of a personal dislike. There is a great deal of polite and falsehood used on these occasions. "I am sorry that I am engaged." "I have a slight headache, and do not intend to dance;" but a lady should never be guilty even of a conventional lie, and if she replies very politely, asking to be excused, as she does not wish to dance ("with you," being probably her mental reservation), a man ought to be satisfied. At all events, he should never press her to dance after one refusal. The set forms which Turvey drop would give for the invitation are too much of the deportment school to be used in practice. If you know a young lady slightly, it is sufficient to say to her, "May I have the pleasure of dancing this waltz, with you?" or if intimately, "Will you dance, Miss A?" The young lady who has refused one gentleman has no right to accept another for that dance; and young ladies who do not wish to be annoyed must take care not to accept two gentlemen for the same dance. In Germany such innocent blunders often cause fatal results. Two partners arrive at the same moment to claim the fair one's hand; she vows she has not made a mistake; "was sure she was engaged to Ilcrr A and not to Ilerr B;" Herr B is equally certain that she was engaged to him. The awkwardness is, that if he at once gives her up, he appears to be indifferent about it; while, if he presses his suit, he must quarrel with Ilerr A, unless the damsel is clever enough to satisfy both of them; and particularly if there is an especial interest in Herr B , he yields at last, but when the dance is over, sends a friend to Herr A . Absurd as all this is, it is common, and I have often seen one Ilerr or the other walking about with a huge gash on his cheek, or his arm in a sling, a few days after a ball.
Friendship, it appears, can be let out on hire. The lady who was so very amiable to you last night, has a right to ignore your existence to-day. In fact, a ball-room acquaintance rarely goes any farther, until you have met at more balls than one. In the same way a man cannot, after being introduced to a young lady to dance with, ask her to do so more than twice in the same evening. On the Continent, however intimate, he must never dance twice with the same lady, that is, if she be unmarried.
Mamma would interfere, and ask his intentions if he did so. In England, a man of sense will select at most one or two partners, and dance with them alternately the whole evening. But then he must expect comment there upon, and a young lady who does not wish to have her name coupled with his, will not allow him to single her out in this manner.
However, a man may dance four or even five times with the same partner without this risk. On the other hand, a really well-bred man will wish to be useful, and there are certain people whom it is imperative on him to ask to dance, the daughters of the house, for instance, and any young ladies whom he may know intimately; but most of all the well-bred and amiable man will sacrifice himself to those plain, ill-dressed, dull-looking beings who cling to the wall, unsought and despairing. After all, he will not regret his good-nature. The spirits reviving at the unexpected invitation, the wall-flower will pour out her best conversation, will dance her best, and will show him her gratitude in some way or other. So, too, an amiable girl will do her best to find partners for her wall-flower friends, even at the risk of sitting out herself.
The formal bow at the end of a quadrille has gradually dwindled away. At the end of every dance you offer you right arm to your partner (if by mistake you offer the left, you may turn the blunder into a pretty compliment, by reminding her that it is fe bras du ceur, nearest the heart, which if not anatomically true, is at least no worse than talking of a sunset and sunrise), and walk half round the room with her. You then ask her if she will take any refreshment, and, if she accepts, you convey your precious allotment of tarlatane to the refreshment-room to be invigorated by an ice or negus, or what you will. It is judicious not to linger too long in this room, if you are engaged to someone else
for the next dance. You will have the pleasure of hearing the music begin in the distant ball-room, and of reflecting that an expectant fair is sighing for you like Mariana;
"He cometh not," she said.
She said, "I am a-weary a-weary, I would I were in bed;"
which is not an unfrequent wish in some ball-rooms. A well-bred girl, too, will remember this, and always offer to return to the ball-room, however interesting the conversation.
If you are prudent you will not dance every dance, nor, in fact, much more than half the number on the list; you will then escape that hateful redness of face at the time, and that wearing fatigue the next day which are among the worst features of a ball. Again, a gentleman must remember that a ball is essentially a lady s party, and in their presence he should be gentle and delicate almost to a fault, never pushing his way, apologizing if he tread on a dress, still more so if he tears it, being pardon for any accidental annoyance he may occasion, and addressing everybody with a smile. But quite unpardon able are those men whom one sometimes meets, who, standing in a door-way, talk and laugh as they would in a barrack or college-rooms, always coarsely, often indelicately. What must the state of their minds be if the sight of beauty, modesty, and virtue does not awe them into silence. A man, too, who strolls down the room with his head in the air, looking as if there were not a creature there worth dancing with, is an ill-bred man, so is he who looks bored; and worse than all is he who takes too much champagne.
If you are dancing with a young lady when the supper-room is opened, you must ask her if she would like to go to supper, and if she says "yes," which, in 999 cases out of 1000, she certainly will do, you must take her thither. If you are not dancing the lady of the house will probably recruit you to take in some chaperon. How ever little you may relish this, you must not show your disgust. In fact, no man ought to be disgusted at being able to do anything for a lady; it should be his highest privilege, but it is not in these modern unchivalrous days, perhaps never was so. Having placed your partner then at the supper-table, if there is room there, but if not at a side-table, or even at none, you must be as active as Puck in attending to her wants, and as women take as long to settle their fancies in edibles as in love- matters, you had better at once get her something substantial, chicken, pale defoiegras, mayonnaise, or what you will. Afterwards some jelly and trifle in due course. A young lady often goes down half-a-dozen times to the supper-room, it is to be hoped not for the purpose of eating but she should not do so with the same partner more than once. While the lady is supping you must stand by and talk to her, attending to every want, and the most you may take yourself is a glass of champagne when you help her. You then lead her up stairs again, and if you are not wanted there any more, you may steal down and do a little quiet refreshment on your own account. As long, however, as there are many ladies still at the table, you have no right to begin. Nothing marks a man here so much as gorging at supper. Balls are meant for dancing, not eating, and unfortunately too many young men forget this in the present day. Lastly, be careful what you say and how you dance after supper, even more so than before it, for if you in the slightest way displease a young lady, she may fancy that you have been too partial to strong fluids, and ladies never forgive that. It would be hard on the lady of the house if everybody leaving a large ball thought it necessary to wish her good-night. In quitting a small dance, however, a parting bow is expected. It is then that the pretty daughter of the house gives you that sweet smile of which you dream afterwards in a gooseberry nightmare of "tum-tum-tiddy-tum," and waltzes a'deux temps, and masses of tarlatane and bright eyes, flushed cheeks and dewy glances. See them to-morrow, my dear fellow, it will cure you.
I think flirtation comes under, the head of morals more than of manners; still I may be allowed to say that ballroom flirtation being more open is less dangerous than any other. But a young lady of taste will be careful not to flaunt and publish her flirtation, as if to say, "See, I have an admirer!" In the same way a prudent man will never presume on a girl's liveliness or banter. No man of taste ever made an offer after supper, and certainly nine-tenths of those who have done so have regretted it at breakfast the next morning.
Public balls are not much frequented by people of good society, except in watering-places and country towns. Even there a young lady should not be seen at more than two or three in the year. County-balls, race-balls, and hunt-balls, are generally better than common subscription-balls. Charity-balls are an abominable anomaly. At public balls there are generally either three or four stewards on duty, or a professional master of ceremonies. These gentlemen having made all the arrangements, order the dances, and have power to change them if desirable. They also undertake to present young men to ladies, but it must be understood that such an introduction is only available for one dance. It is better taste to ask the steward to introduce you simply to a partner, than to point out any lady in particular. He will probably then ask you if you have a choice, and if not, you may be ce tain he will take you to an established wall-flower. Public balls are scarcely enjoyable unless you have your own party.
As the great charm of a ball is its perfect accord and harmony, all altercations, loud talking, etc., are doubly ill-mannered in a ball-room. Very little suffices to disturb the peace of the whole company.The Habits of Good Society: A Handbook of Etiquette for Ladies and Gentleman. James Hogg (London), 1859 [As written]