Tag Archives: social season

The Bore of a Ball-room: 1832

The Tricolored Quadrille Ball, New York City 1830

The Tricolored Quadrille Ball, New York City 1830


From a London Journal.

It is an amusing thing to stand in the outskirts of what Lord Mulgrave terms the gown-tearing, tugging, riving mob of a London ballroom, and speculate on the motives and views of the individuals of which it is composed. “Je suis ici pour mon grandpere,” said the Duc de Rohan, at a seance of the French Academy. “Et moi pour ma grammaire,” replied the Abbe de Levizac. “I am here in honour of my grandfather,” might be observed by many a Fitzroy, Seymour, Somerset, or Bentinck at Almack’s; – “And I, in honour of my daughter, or niece, or protegee,” would be an apt rejoinder from half the ancient dames stationary on the satin sofas of the sanctuary. For a given number of personages, of proportionate means and condition of life, to meet together for purposes of mutual amusement, is, in the abstract, a very reasonable employment of their superfluous time and superfluous coin. But in these days of sophistication, few things are to be considered in so bald and definite a point of view; and of the three or four hundred human beings congregated together during the months of June and July, in certain “matchless and magnificent mansions,”—garnished by Gunter with a sufficiency of pines and spring chickens, and by Michaud with minikin Collinet and his flageolet—we venture to assert that scarcely fifty are brought within its portals by a view to mutual entertainment.

First, in the list of guests, are those who go because they are apprehensive of being classed among the uninvited; labouring through the toils of the toilet solely to prove their right of being there. Next come the idlers, who fly to the throng in the hope of getting rid of themselves; finding it far more charming to yawn away the evening, and grumble over the weariness, staleness, flatness, and unprofitableness of life among ladies in satin gowns, and gentlemen in satin cravats, than in the domestic desolation of home.

After these, we rank the routineers, who order their carriages to the door at eleven o’clock P.M., every night between April and July, merely because they have done the same every season for the last ten years;  persons, in fact, who go everywhere, and see every thing, because. every body of their acquaintance does the same. Then we have the dowagers “on business;” intent on exhibiting “my youngest daughter—her first season,”—or “my sweet young friend, Lady Jane, quite a novice, as you may perceive, in gay scenes of this description.” A little further may be seen certain fading beauties, whose daughters and Lady Janes are still with the governess; profiting by their absence to listen to the whispers of the Colonel and Lord Henry, who are either already married, or not “marrying men.” Close at hand are two or three husbands of the fading beauties; either perplexed in the extreme by the mature coquetry of their worse halves, or taking notes for a curtain lecture, or gathering data for conjugal recrimination. Others, both of the Lady Janes, and the married beauties, are there at the hollow impulse of mere vanity; to show the beautiful robe a la Grecque, smuggled from Paris through Cholera and quarantine, or anxious to prove that, though the Duchess of Buccleugh’s diamonds are very fine, their own are more tastefully set. A few “very good-natured friends” of the hostess go in hopes of discovering that the supper is deficient by a dozen of champaigne and half a dozen pounds of grapes; while one or two flirts of a somewhat pronounced notoriety, go that their names may be included in the Morning Post list of persons present, (or our own,) which thus endorses their passport to other and better balls. The young men go to prove that they are in fashion; the middle-aged to show that they are not too old to be asked to balls; and the elderlies because they find themselves shouldered at the Clubs, and can bestow in a ball-room their tediousness without measure or limitation on any unlucky person whose carriage is ordered late.

“I did not expect to see you here,” observes Mrs. A. to Mrs. B. on the landing-place leading to Lady F’s. ball-room, which neither has any chance of entering for the next half hour. “I dare say not;  this is the first time I ever ventured here. But, to say the truth, I want to show people I am in town, without the bore of sending round my cards.” “How old Lady Maria is grown! And what in the world does she mean by coming out so soon? It is very little more than a year since she lost her husband.” “If you had such lumber to dispose of as four ugly daughters, you would ‘take no note of time,’ as far as the forms of widowhood are concerned.” “And there is the bride, Lady Mary Grubb! In my time people did not allow the world to encroach upon their honeymoon!” “But you see she has forfeited caste by marrying a parvenu, and loses no time in showing people that the creature has less of the shop about him than might be expected.” “And her mother, the marchioness, I protest!” “Of course. She is very wise to put a good face on this awkward business of her eldest daughter.” “And poor Mrs. Partlet—taking care that her great, gawky, silly son, does not commit himself by blundering into the nets of the marrying young ladies.” “And Lady Helena watching her husband’s flirtation with Mrs. Tomtit, while her eye-glass actually trembled with jealous fury!” “And little Clara Fidget, trying to find out by what vile designing damsel Lord Charles has been kidnapped away from her.” “There is scarcely any one here to-night,” cries Mrs. A., standing aside a moment, to make way for the crowd, which has already torn away a yard of her sabots. “What can you expect in a house where they ask every body. Lady F. is in the popularity line. She invites whole families—from the great grandmother in her diamond stomacher, to the open-mouthed hobbledehoy in loose nankins, at home for his Easter holidays.” “It is a great impertinence in people to inflict one with an indiscriminate mob. I shall never come here again. Ah! Colonel de Hauteville, I see you have struggled through the billows. What chance have we of getting into the ballroom.” “Luckily, for you, very little. It is a very bad ball—hardly a face one knows.” “Sir William, you have been dancing, I perceive?” “There is no other way of getting room to stir in a crowd of this sort. I was obliged to ask one of Lady F’s. daughters to waltz, to escape from between two great fat women, who were squeezing me into gold-beater’s skin. Dunbar! How are you?” “How am I? why, very much bored, of course. What shall we do? Is there a supper?” “Not such a one as a Christian man should venture on. Let us go to Crockford’s.” “With all my heart. Make haste. Lady P. will be laying violent hands on you, and wanting you to dance.” “If I do, &c. &c. &c.”

In nine cases out of ten, such, or such like, is the dialogue of the very people who have passed two hours between dinner and dressing time yawning on a sofa, lest they should be betrayed into going unfashionably early—who have endured for another hour the pains and penalties of being laced, curled, rouged, stuck with a paper of pins, and fidgetted by the difficult coalition of three dozen hooks-and-eyes, in order to do honour to the assembly; and who, at last, insist on dragging two unoffending quadrupeds, and two or three wretched domestics, out of their beds in “the sweet o’ the night,” in order that they may be seen and see, by candlelight, a crowd of idle men and women of fashion, whom they may see by daylight any day in the week. Yet hence the poor are clothed, the mean are fed; and the philosophy of the ball-room compels us to acknowledge, that of the persons thus occupied, very few are capable of employing themselves to better purpose.

Godey’s Lady’s Book [Philadelphia, PA] August, 1832

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Such delicious gossip overheard at a ball!  What backbiting, and conjugal recrimination, and smuggled gowns! And those ageing beauties and ugly, marriageable daughters displayed for the market! Mrs Daffodil figuratively rubs her hands together in anticipation when she thinks of the many murderous possibilities so conveniently assembled in a single room.

Gunter is, of course, the purveyor of ices and confectionary. “Minikin Collinet” is Hubert Collinet, a flageolet virtuoso of such small stature that it was frequently remarked upon in his notices. Michaud was a musican impressario, who arranged programmes and musicians for balls in England and France.

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.