Public Balls in New York
I HAVE often wondered how an absolutely unbiased, unprejudiced account of some of our social observances and customs — such as I could give myself — would, if printed, strike the public. The attempt has been made in other countries, notably by H. A. Taine in England; but the description, however successful in exciting interest or affording entertainment, is always apt to raise a doubt in the mind of the reader whether there is not some sinister moral motive behind, whether the observer is after all fair and unbiased, or whether he has not taken a critical or satirical attitude which has interfered with the absolute impartiality of his impressions. Such a bias would certainly not be strange, as the attitude of the literary man to the world at large, as engaged in practical work (or play), has from time immemorial been that of a moralist and critic. Ex vi termini the observer is not an actor, and therefore he unconsciously sees in the actor, for the time being, a natural enemy, and wonders how he can be guilty of taking a part in the general folly of life. Commonly, too, he is impressed with the conviction that the life of other times and countries must have been more amusing and interesting than that which he sees going on about, him: if lie is an old observer, the days of ids youth shine out in recollection as better than the present ; if he is at home, the life of foreign countries strikes him as the bust : if he is abroad, he sighs for home. These depraved tendencies of the observer and critic always impair his usefulness more or less, and make it necessary to take his reflections with a grain of salt. Even in the case of M. Taine, they have had their effect, as a glance at the works of that hardened spectator ab extra will show.
When M. Taine was in London, and engaged in making collections for his entertaining and instructive Notes on England, he made, in his character as observer of English life and manners, among other excursions a visit to Epsom, and afterwards wound up the day with a night’s pleasure at the Creinornc Gardens. Of these festivities he has given a minute and conscientious description.
At the entrance he finds, naturally enough, some crowding and jostling; within “the crowd is terrible,” though “ one can find breathing space in sombre recesses.” The women’s faces are “ rather faded,” and sometimes in tlie crowd “ they raise terrible cries,— the cries of a screech-owl.” They have,he adds, a comical notion which “ proves their state of excitement,” — that of “pinching people, particularly foreigners.” One of the party, who is forty years of age, “ being sharply pinched and otherwise scandalized,” leaves the place. Another woman “ beats a gentleman on the back with her fists for having trodden on her foot.” At length our critic goes away, and, having seen, reflects; his reflections are not favorable. In the first place, it is so different from France. “ The spcctacle'of debauchery here leaves no other impression than one of misery and degradation. There is no brilliancy, dash, and liveliness about it, as in France: when a gentleman washes to dance, a master of the ceremonies, with a badge and a white cravat, goes to find a partner for him; the two often dance together without exchanging a word,” There is, again, much inebriety. “ A tragical thing is that men and women both drink, and begin by intoxication; it is the brutality and destitution which first meet, together in traversing unreason, imbecility, and stupor.” After all, it is better to stay at home. “ One returns deeply grieved, with a bitter and profound feeling of human grossness and helplessness; society is a fine edifice, but in the lowest story what a sink of impurity! Civilization polishes man, but how tenacious is the bestial instinct! ” It is consoling, after this, to reflect that the light-hearted Gaul manages his revels with more delicacy and sobriety. Let us, then, shaking off the mud of England from our feet and wringing its fog out of our clothes, cross the Channel, and see how the gay children of France manage these things. There is no more entertaining or instructive account of French life than the Notes on Paris contained in the posthumously published volume of the life and opinions of M. Frederic Thomas Graindorge, doctor of philosophy at the University of Jena, and special partner in the house of Graindorge & Co., Oils and Salt Pork, Cincinnati, U. S. A. M. Taine was the executor of M. Graindorge, a gentleman of unusual powers of observation and facility of statement, and after his death gave his papers to the world. In them are to be found shrewd observations and reflections upon almost every phase of Parisian life, — among others the Public Ball of Paris. We have seen how English pleasures strike M. Taine. Let us see how the like sort of thing strikes M. Graindorge in France. Let us follow this philosophic observer, at the age of sixty, through his round of nocturnal adventures.
It is eleven o’clock at night, and he determines to pass a pleasant evening. “ There is no amusement,” he reflects, “outside of Paris, — no gayety but at Paris balls ; ” at least he was “ told so in America.” About, six hundred persons are collected at the Casino, Rue Cadet. Let us enter and see what we find. There is a “ bad smell of gas and tobacco, the heat and steam of a crowded room. There are little nooks for drinking, a sort of saloon where people elbow each other about, a large dance hall with a chalked and sprinkled floor, here and there shabby velvet sofas, the cast-off furniture of some lodging-house.” The women are all “used up” and daubed with paint. They “ eat suppers and sit up all night; in the morning plenty of pomatum and cold cream ; to this they owe their unique complexion.” Their voices “ are shrill, thin, and sharp, the result of petils verres.” Of these ladies Mariette, the Toulousaine, attracts most attention. Her attractions are of two kinds, gymnastic and intellectual: she throws her leg to a level with her head, and touches her foot with her hand; and she converses not without spirit, but “ what she says cannot be put on paper.” Only three or four men who have the appearance of gentlemen are to be seen. “ The rest of the audience is made up of students and clerks, many of them apparently clerks in stores, omnibus conductors, barbers’ boys, and wine merchants. The clothes and hats look as though they Came from some peddler’s van. The men dance and kick up their heels like the women.” Afterwards M. Graindorge visits the Mabille. How often had he heard it spoken of ! “ Young men dream of it. Foreigners take their wives to see it. Historians will some day speak of it.” It is a grand ball night; two francs entrance for men, one franc for women. This is the way that the general appearance of the place strikes M. Graindorge : “ A grand alley-way variegated with colored glass; diminutive groves, round plots of illuminated green. Small blue jets of gas stretch along the ground through the flowers. Light and transparent vases are mixed in rings over the grass. There is a faint odor of grease and oil. The trees, wan and dim in the oblique light, look strange and unearthly. The imitation Corinthian vases, the scenes painted in deception, to give an appearance of length to the alleys, are simply contemptible. Above this rural arrangement jut out the sharp corners and heavy masonry of an enormous building. The rough ground hurts the feet. Decidedly I am not enthusiastic.”
And this is the way that the people strike M. Graindorge: “The men are said to be hired; the women exhibit themselves gratis, though they feel that they are despised. How odd that people can take any pleasure in staring at these poor girls, most of them faded, all looking degraded or half-scared, as they dance in their hats and cloaks and black bottines! One is tempted to give them twenty francs, and send them all to the kitchen to eat a beefsteak and drink a glass of beer. ”
Towards midnight the Mabille becomes “ a thorough rout,” and M. Graindorge, wishing to see everything, goes on to the Bal Perron at the Barrière du Trous. This is a “ guinguette,” that pretty sounding word so common in the world of the opera comique or of Beranger’s songs. “ The very word,” observes M. Graindorge, “ calls up pretty, sly faces, nicely fitting little caps, graceful and flexible figures; all the gayety, all the vivacity, so peculiar to France and Paris are there, — is it not so?” Well, then, let us enter a guinguette and see for ourselves. “ The chief characteristic here is that, with one or two exceptions, all these people are thin and small. Several of them look like children. There are some women only four feet high; all are stunted, dwarfed, pitiful, badly made. From generation to generation they have drunk bad wine, eaten dog chops, breathed the foul air of Bobino, and worked too hard in order to amuse themselves too much.” Here we find the true type of the Parisian workingman, with his “ transparent vanity ” and his “ low sensuality.” “ The musicians blow away indefatigably. The floor manager hurries about, pushing and coupling the dancers with a speed and activity really wonderful. . . . There are two or three soldiers in the orchestra; one at the drum, another at the cymbals, the latter with spectacles, serious and attentive as though he were about to touch off a mine. The cornet-a-piston has taken off his coat, and is blowing away, leaning back in his chair with dripping forehead and red cheeks. The octave flute is a hunchback, a poor dried-up fellow, with a peaked, charcoal face and eyes which shine like flames. A good, patient old gray-beard is scraping the bass-viol. They make all the noise they can. The company sip their coffee, smoke, gulp down great bumpers of beer, take in the noisy scene with eager eyes and ears. It is their relief from the treadle or the plane. But it is sad to see among them six or eight little working girls, who seem to be respectable, and several families, father, mother, and children, who have come to look on. It is here that they learn that pleasure consists of brawling and drunkenness.”
It is clear that M. Graindorge does not agree with those who think that the public balls of Paris are the only places for true gayety in the world. On the contrary, as he leaves this guinguette of the nineteenth century, he sadly exclaims, “ What a difference between the wild fury of this ant swarm and the calm contentment, the quiet enjoyment, of the pleasure gardens in Germany! ” And so we reach the end of the round. In England the home of true pleasure is France. In France it is Germany. In Germany it may be France again. In every age it is at another period. In every country it is in some other latitude. After all, then, it seems that public balls at Paris and London have a wonderful number of features in common, and that most of them are calculated to inspire the lover of his kind with alarm. They are also calculated to inspire the observer with trepidation ; for the descriptions do not to our mind give a very clear or distinct idea of the peculiarities of the things described. We get at the end of the chapter a much better idea of the temperament and turn of mind of the observer at the ball than we do of the exact nature of the ball itself. And yet M. Taine and M. Graindorge are professional observers. It is hard, obviously, to play the spectator pur sang, — a fact which has sometimes interfered with the accuracy even of the pictures of life in this country presented by the correspondents of English newspapers. But surely it is not inherently necessary that observers, surveying mankind, or a particular part of mankind, with “ extensive view,” should fall into this error. With all the progress that we have made in the past eighteen centuries, and especially in the present century, we certainly must have reached a point at which the spectator can detach himself from his traditions and prejudices, moral and sentimental, and simply describe what he sees, without false coloring or distortion.
In the desperate attempt which we are about to make to give an absolutely impartial account of public balls in New York, it must not be imagined for an instant that we confound the institution of public balls in the commercial capital of our great and free country with such places of pleasure as Cremorne Gardens or Mabille. We have cited M. Taine’s description of the plans which he selected for his evening’s amusement, merely as an illustration of the difficulty of attaining perfection in this sort of work, and in anticipatory apology for any short-comings of our own that the lynxeyed reader may detect. We shall conduct him only through the most unexceptionable scenes, — places where re - spectability is guaranteed by a price of admission so hight that the reader (whatever view he takes of our description) may well congratulate himself that he has not been obliged to make the tour of inspection in person.
M. Graindorge, it must be observed, died some years since, and when he knew this country public balls had not with us attained a standing which entitled them to rank as an “ institution.” Within the past ten or a dozen years, however, there has been, at least in New York, a great development of this class of amusements. Just as, since the war, the theatres have improved and developed, and athletic sports have been elevated to the rank of a profession, and college endowments have been so munificently increased, so, too, has there gradually grown up in New York a sort of American carnival season, marked chiefly by its great number of public and masked balls. It was not to be expected, of course, that the carnival in establishing itself in New York would assume the same form or characteristics that it did in older countries or warmer climates. There can hardly be out-ofdoor festivities in forty degrees north latitude toward the end of February, and masquerading in broad daylight is under our system of law a penal offense. It was to be expected, too, that there would be something distinctively American about a New York carnival. In our hundred years of existence, though we have per-
haps shown no faculty for originating national amusements, we have generally given a peculiar national development to those which we have adopted from other lands. The modest game of “rounders ” has in our hands become the remarkable national sport known as “ baseball; ” in cards we have developed “ euchre ” and the world-renowned “ poker ” out of two European games originally of small importance; in rowing we at one time introduced the extraordinary fashion of steering by means of the bow-oar’s feet; in other branches of athletic sports, while we cannot be said to have invented walking, American men have invented what is called long-distance walking, while American women have made themselves famous the world over as the champions of “consecutive-period” pedestrianism. In what is now called the art of natation, it is an American who was lately employed in swimming, in the middle of winter, from Pittsburgh to the Gulf of Mexico. In the adoption and development on a gigantic scale of almost any national pastime, we are excelled by no people in the world; and hence it was to be expected that if we seriously gave our minds to the development of an American carnival we would easily distance the slow-going nations who invented it or inherited it from their ancestors. It must be understood, also, that what we are speaking of here is not the carnival as it is alleged to exist in the South. In New Orleans there are French creoles and negroes and a legalized monthly lottery-drawing, and in many respects life is half foreign; besides this, there is a possibility in the early spring of something like out-of-door enjoyment. For these reasons Mardi Gras and the annual New Orleans masquerade procession may possibly be what they are said by Southern editors to be. A year or two since an attempt was made to introduce this Louisiana carnival into New York, and a procession was got up which promenaded through the streets by torchlight, headed by King Carnival, who excited about the same sort of curious but wary attention that might have been attracted by King Cetewayo, had he appeared in New York. This attempt to imitate the Southern carnival was a ghastly failure, as might have been expected. Any one accustomed to the scientific analysis of the growth of institutions could see that no such carnival as this would ever make a permanent home in such a city as New York. In New York, as has just been said, the weather about the time of carnival is apt to be cold. Therefore it is clear that our carnival must be an indoor carnival. Again, the Anglo-Saxon race has never had any such festival; therefore it is almost certain that so far as any is developed it will be at first in the hands of foreigners. Besides this, there are no such things in a modern American city as public amusements, in the old-fashioned sense, — that is, amusements in which all the world takes part as a matter of course. Among the liberty-loving people of England and America the prevailing practice of taking such liberties as are not prevented by fear of the law has made it necessary in all really popular pastimes to exclude the mass of the people by the exaction of an entrance fee; it being shown by experience that pleasure at so much a head is much more decorous and quite as amusing as pleasure to which all the world comes. Consequently we should expect that our carnival would be a carnival at so much a head, — a carnival for the benefit of such as choose to pay for it; in fact, a carnival by contract.
There is, in the nature of things, every reason why the carnival in its modern Anglo-Saxon development should take this form. Sir Henry Maine, in his valuable work on Ancient Law, has pointed out that the great difference between ancient and modern society lies in the change from status to contract in all the relations of life. Status, as every lawstudent knows, denotes those fixed relations, founded partly on custom and partly on law, of which primitive man is known to have been so absurdly fond. Marriage was, for instance, originally an instance of status, and so would have doubtless continued, if it had not been discovered by the legislature of Illinois, Connecticut, and other States that it might just as well be a pure matter of bargain, to begin and terminate at the pleasure of the parties. So it is with many other institutions. The celebration of the carnival was originally a public festivity, the relations of everybody to it having been fixed for generations. The carnival as it now exists in New York is indeed festive in character, but it is provided for those who choose to become ticket - holders in it by enterprising companies; the provision of carnival by them being wholly determined by the amount of money paid in, while the amount of money paid in is wholly determined by the success of the companies in providing the ticket-holders with the kind of carnival they desire.
These balls must, by the way, be carefully distinguished from a number of others, which have nothing of a masquerade or carnival character. Though the nights on which these take place are important epochs in the ball season, they are related to the Arion and Liederkranz ouly remotely, Of these, a word or two may be said in advance.
The connection between charity and fashion is an old and established one; why charity should be always fashionable, and fashion should be in the hands of those who also chiefly support charity, is a question not very difficult to solve. Why does fashion support horse-races, church choirs, walking matches, the music of the future, African missions, and so many other excellent but heterogeneous things? Clearly, because fashion has a great deal of money and time with which it does not know what to do. There is something in the connection between fashion and charity which always affords a capital mark for the shaft of the satirist; but there is really no reason for satirizing it, as the connection is the result of an economical law, as general and universal in its operation as Ricardo’s law of rent is believed to be by all but Pennsylvanians.
It must be remembered, however, in order to understand the precise nature of the connection of the annual Charity Ball in New York with fashion, that New York society is governed by peculiar laws of its own, which are unknown elsewhere. There are two theories with regard to fashionable life in New York, put forward from time to time by essayists, satirists, and observers, which are usually regarded as mutually contradictory. One is the plutocratic, the other the exclusive theory. In accordance with one, society in New York is composed of a number of rich people, whose wealth constitutes their only title to social position, and of whose breeding and cultivation the less said the better. The other is a theory that, notwithstanding the inroads made by the plutocracy, the “ new ” people, there are a certain number of “old families,” of assured social position and high breeding, who really form the best society, give it its tone, and set the fashion. The truth is, we take it, that both theories are in a measure based upon facts: there are a certain number of old families, people who have the social traditions of several generations behind them; and there are a certain number of new people, who gradually establish their position in society by means of their wealth, but only gradually, and generally in not much more and not much less than thirty years. In fact, the necessity of excluding doubtful characters from the pale has to be recognized in New York as everywhere else, or society would soon become a bear-garden. The traditions of social existence must be kept alive, and they are kept alive in New York only by a careful attention on the part of that conservative class, the persons who have grandfathers, to their duties. That they do this for the benefit of the new people, who sooner or later make their way within the barriers, is true enough; but their conservatism keeps up a barrier meantime. Now, society being in this state, it is obvious that if a convenient neutral ground can be found, on which may meet, under a sort of fashionable sanction, those who are passing through the anxious stage which intervenes between complete exclusion from and admission to society, — a ground where no one is compromised either by receiving or being received; where one’s presence guarantees a sort of fashionable publicity, and at the same time entails no subsequent social embarrassments of any sort, — such a place will attract a great crowd; and if the support of charity is also held in view a crowd which will nobly contribute towards that worthy object. Such a place has undoubtedly been discovered for New York in the Charity Ball. As a public ball it is in no way different from other balls. The floor is covered with dancers; the boxes and amphitheatre of seats are filled with fair women and brave men; there are two bands, and a bad and expensive supper in an adjoining “ hall.” But there is a list of managers and patronesses with names fit to make a whole directory of fashion ; the ball is opened by the mayor (this is a serious matter, and there are people, particularly people who come to such a ball from the country, to whom the opening of the ball by the mayor is a guarantee of social correctness); and last, but not least, there is a full account of the dresses, with the names of the persons who appeared in them, in all next morning’s papers. If we were writing a guide to New York, we should advise the curious stranger to go by all means to the Charity Ball. If he has been taught to believe the plutocratic theory of New York life, he will be confirmed in it by what he sees, and may go home and read the Potiphar Papers with the satisfaction of knowing that he has got to the bottom of New York society; if he holds to the “ oldfamily ” theory, he will be confirmed in it by what he does not see, and may go home and read a chapter from the Book of Snobs, or Vanity Fair, and reflect, as he falls asleep, how very much alike is the folly of mankind all over the world. In either case he will only half understand the Charity Ball.
The French Cooks’ Ball is a simpler matter. It is a ball given exclusively for the purpose of exhibiting the culinary art of the chefs of New York. There is no pretense of fashion about it at all. There is little or no pretense of dressing. You will recognize the faces of the managers and the guests; they are the same thoughtful and attentive faces to which you have so many times given directions regarding the manner in which you prefer terrapin cooked, or the precise length of time you like an egg boile., Give no directions to them here, however, for we are all on an equality,—cooks, garçons, Kellners, “ boys,” waiters, even head waiters, and all. The principal attraction is the supper-room, where, arranged on parallel tables, are multitudinous works of rare designs, each presided over by its author and creator. It would be a waste of time to attempt to describe them ; it is enough to say that they are always very wonderful, and look very uneatable ; their external appearance suggests the question whether what may be called culinary architecture has really reached the point which the French cooks evidently think it has.
As we near the end of Lent, the balls get more numerous, and masquerading sets in. The two great masked balls of the New York winter are the Liederkranz and the Arion. The Liederkranz is given at the Academy of Music; in its general arrangements it does not differ much from the Charity Ball, but in character it differs essentially. As there are masked balls and masked balls, this may be put down as the fashionable masked ball of the winter, though the difference between the fashionable type and the unfashionable type, as represented by the Arion, is, according to our experience, rather in size than in moral qualities. Most of what we shall have to say about the Arion applies to the Liederkranz, it being understood that one takes place in an opera-house, the other in a “ garden,”and that the price of admission to one is twice that to the other. The character of the crowd at the two places differs perhaps as much as the character of the crowd at a performance of Carmen from the crowd which assembles on the Coney Island piazzas in the midsummer evenings to hear the world-renowned Levy play Home, Sweet Home upon his cornet.
Let us, then, having paid our visit of duty to the Charity and the French Cooks' Ball, revert to the serious business of the carnival season. Let us see for ourselves, as unbiased spectators, precisely what are the masked balls of New York in a carnival àprix fixe. Casting aside all national prejudices, we will go simply as strangers, observers, students of human nature and the customs of the newest of all cities, at once new and great.
It is ten o’clock, and we are in the principal restaurant of the New World. It is a French café with innumerable little marble-topped tables, and innumerable attendant or expectant waiters scattered about among them. It is the boast of New York that it possesses the best French restaurant in the world. On the table in front of us lie the evening papers with the latest news from Washington, side by side with Figaro, the Journal pour Rire, and the Journal Amusant. How deceptive are appearances! Are we to infer from this that the people at the tables are half French, or shall we make no inference from it whatever ? The latter is much the safer of the two courses to pursue, and without hazarding any speculation on the subject let us send for a ticket, and go to the ball. The ticket is easily procured, and its bright and somewhat inharmonious colors tell us, if we do not know it already, that the festivities are in the hands of the great German race. We leave the café, and find ourselves in a stream of people going in the direction of the garden in which the ball is going on. The garden, so called, is a building of uncertain architectural character, extending round four sides of a New York “ block,” covering perhaps two acres of ground. It was formerly a railroad depot; it is now dedicated to all public entertainments which have to be given on a large scale, from a Moody and Sankey revival or an Arion Ball to a dog show. Presenting its tickets at the main entrance, the crowd surges into a narrow passage-way on one side, where are at intervals square holes in partitions, through which are visible the faces of the receivers of coats and hats. Everything is very orderly. There is no use in attempting to hurry people. You must take your place in a long queue, and wait till you reach in your turn the square hole. You may then put your coat and hat through it, and you will receive in return a ticket with a number. As the ball will last until six o’clock, and ten or twenty thousand people are coming to it, all these details are of importance.
While we are waiting our turn, we have plenty of time to examine the gentlemen who are in front of us; and we discover them to be, some acquaintances, many evidently foreigners, but many, half probably, Americans, — well-to-dolooking men, clearly with means enough to afford an occasional extravagance of this kind. That we have not left America by any means is proved by what is to be seen if we turn round, — an American bar, of length so great that the fact of its having any further end has to be taken on faith. It is really, like everything else in this place, of enormous dimensions, two or three hundred feet possibly; it may even be “ the longest bar in the world.” It should be stated here that the purchaser of a ticket to the Arion is furnished with a printed map of the grounds. This of itself gives some idea of the scale of the entertainment.
Having got rid of our coat and hat, we enter the garden through one of the approaches, all of which, on this side of the building, appear to lead through the bar. We leave the clatter of glasses behind ; we emerge into the full glare of a masquerade ball. The centre of the garden has been floored over for the dancers, while all round the floor is a gigantic promenade, about a quarter of a mile in circumference; outside this, again, are tiers of seats and boxes, rising one above the other to the top of the building. The light is furnished by arches of gas jets inclosed in many-colored diminutive glass globes. On either side is a band of music, — not perhaps the best in the world, but still a band which may be relied upon to play all night, and to mark the time for waltzing with emphasis.
Theoretically, no one is allowed upon the floor without a mask, but this rule is not very strictly enforced. We may venture upon it without much danger of being severely dealt with, and we are now in a position to observe the crowd. Most of the people are in costumes: the women generally merely in dominoes and masks; the men generally in character costumes, some with genuine masks. All our old friends, harlequin, clown, pantaloon, Mephistopheles, monk, and so on, are here. Altogether, with the colored dominoes and costumes, and the music and the lights, it is a gay scene. It is necessary, however, to make one observation: that the masks do not, in any proper sense of the word, masquerade. To masquerade, as we have always understood, is not simply to dress in an assumed character, but to act the character. This no one seems to do: perhaps because they do not know how ; perhaps because our Northern busy, practical life has extinguished in us those primitive instincts of mimicry which Southern nations still possess. Perhaps — but here we are again launched on the sea of speculation.
The instinct of dancing, at any rate, has not died out. The masks evidently mean to make a night of it in this way, if in no other. First a round dance, and then a square dance, through the night long — that is what you may count upon if you stay till six. If you are interested in the art of dancing, and will watch the dancers, you will see many curious things, and be able to make many instructive inferences from what you see. In the first place, as you are of course yourself, amiable reader, accustomed to mix only in the best society, you will want to know whether there are any ladies here. Among all these women, brought together from every class and rank of life for a single night’s pleasure, how will you tell a lady if you see her ? There are certain tests which may be applied even at a masked ball, though they are far from infallible. To tell what a woman will and will not do when unmasked is hard enough, To guess what she will do if masked is impossible. Still, there are tests. In the first place, ladies do not, as a general thing, go to masked balls in the United States, and it is fair to assume that they will not go in a costume likely to attract notice. Every woman imagines (what innocent creatures they are!) that a masked ball is the most interesting and romantic place in the world: but ladies, as a rule, do not like to have it known that they have been there. Hence you may almost certainly exclude, as not belonging to your monde, all these pretty masks with gay sashes and striped stockings. Such a mask may be a milliner, or a washerwoman, or your wife’s maid, but not a lady. Neither are any of your acquaintances probably among these mysterious dominoes with voluminous lace curiously twisted about their heads, through which their eyes are seen, but which completely hides the whole outline of their faces. No; if you wish to find the women of the society which you know, you must avoid all these, and look among those perfectly black and unattractive dominoes who manage to conceal even the outline of their figures. These, if they do not dance, may be set down as ladies. It may be as well to know this at the outset, for if you have come for pleasure it is better to avoid them. They are not as entertaining as the women with the dominoes of the other sort. Again, if you will watch the dancing, you will see that the dominoes who dance “ square ” dances are “ turned ” by their partners in a very original manner; the turn taking the form of a waltz interlude in the middle of a lancers or a quadrille. Did you ever see Ikey Bullstock dance in that way with Miss McGillicuddy, that was? No, not once; and you might wait years, and you would never see it done in New York, except at a public ball. The woman thus turned may be the most estimable woman in the world, but she has no standing in society.
It is now one o’clock, and the time for the procession has arrived. This procession is a grand affair, with lovely women throwing bonbons out of chariots to the crowd, tritons riding on a dolphin, performing acrobats in a cage, and an immense variety of memorable shows, all of which puss round the room in single file two or three times, and finally disappear. The procession is preëminently German, the thoughtful managers not having neglected to provide food for the humorous as well as the serious taste of the crowd; one of the “ flats” represents a dentist pulling teeth with a pair of Brobdignagian tweezers out of the jaw of a living victim, whose face makes the agony of his situation only too real. The crowd appear to enjoy this hugely, which proves, gentle reader, that the managers understand wit and humor better than philosophers do.
Two o’clock. The floor is not quite so crowded, for a couple of thousand of people or so have gone home. This is the hour at which, if you are a dancer, you enjoy yourself, provided you are capable of enjoyment. If you are a philosopher, you begin to grow melancholy. It is evidently time for supper. Would it be prudent to invite one or two of these pretty dominoes to take some supper? That they will accept the invitation with pleasure need not be doubted. If you speak to them, the chances are that they will suggest it themselves. The supper tables are in one of the galleries, a hot and stuffy place, where several hundred people are eating salads and ices, and drinking champagne. Now is certainly the time to moralize. What would balls be without champagne? Would there be any balls if there were not any champagne ? And is not the result to which we are forced that pleasure, as the world at large knows it, is founded upon intoxication? Our companion whom we have invited to supper interrupts this train of reflection by intimating that no suggestion has been made to her as to what she would prefer to drink. The suggestion being made, she declares that she much prefers champagne. She is a young girl, apparently, with a pleasant voice, and, as well as can be seen, a pretty figure. Her ideas are practical. Has she ever been at a masked ball before? Once before, it seems, last year; she had such a good time that she means to come every year after this. Masked balls are such fun! No, there is not much room for dancing, but it is such fun to wear a domino and a mask. Have I ever been before ? Why does she want to know? Is she sufficiently interested in my movements to want to know whether I am coming again? (I have a faint idea that this is the way that people at masked balls talk to one another.) Of course she is. (This is said in a tone of voice which implies distinctly that any one who provides her with a supper and champagne is an object of deep interest to her.)
Four o’clock. I have abandoned her. Her conversation was insufferably stupid. There is only one thing more stupid than a woman who is difficult to talk to, and that is a woman who talks easily. Women have no reflective powers, and their conversation is merely the expression of their tastes or feelings; and to a person like myself, of a reflective turn, other people’s tastes and feelings are of little consequence. What is that noise in the remote corner beneath the gallery? It appears that there has been a quarrel, and some one has knocked down a drunken man who insulted a mask. Both parties are arrested by the police, who always pursue this impartial plan in New York, and the disturbance is over almost before it has begun. People who have never been to an Arion ball are given to understand that there is about this time a good deal of riot; but there has certainly been no riot tonight.
Six o’clock, and a great crowd is pouring out of the garden, to get its breakfast. Our carnival is over, and Lent has begun. After all, was it worth the while? Did the masqueraders enjoy masquerading? Did the waltzers enjoy waltzing? Did the crowd, as it gaped at the procession, really enjoy the tritons, and the beautiful distributers of bonbons, and the man having his teeth extracted, and the rest of the show? Or is the whole thing, masquerade, lights, music, dancing, and all, merely a confession of the difficulty that our race finds in getting enjoyment from anything? What sort of a people are we, indeed, with our three centuries of puritanism behind us, our national history devoid of art, of music; we Americans, savages, restless hunters of the almighty dollar, — what sort of a people are we to have a carnival? Is it any wonder that it has to be a carnival by contract, got up at so much a head by the industrious foreigners ? How cold the air is in New York in February at six o’clock in the morning! Shade of M. Graindorge! is it an impossibility to go to a ball without playing the moralist on the way home?