Elegy On The Abrogation Of The Birth-Night Ball, And The Consequent Final Subversion Of The Minuet Poem by Joanna Baillie

Elegy On The Abrogation Of The Birth-Night Ball, And The Consequent Final Subversion Of The Minuet



NOW cease the exulting strain!
And bid the warbling lyre complain.
Heave the soft sigh, and drop the tuneful tear,
And mingle notes far other than of mirth,
E'en with the song that greets the new-born year,
Or hails the day that gave a monarch birth.
That self-same sun, whose chariot wheels have roll'd,
Thro' many a circling year, with glorious toil,
Up to the axles in refulgent gold,
And gems, and silk, and crape, and flowers, and foil;
That self-same sun no longer dares
Bequeath his honours to his heirs,
And bid the dancing hours supply,
As erst, with kindred pomp, his absence from the sky.

For, ever at his lordly call
Uprose the spangled night!
Leading, in gorgeous splendour bright,
The minuet and the ball.
And balls each frolic hour may bring,
That revels thro' the maddening spring,
Shaking with hurried step the painted floor,
But minuets are no more!

No more the well-taught feet shall tread
The figure of the mazy zed;
The beau of other times shall mourn
As gone, and never to return,
The graceful bow, the curtsey low,
The floating forms, that undulating glide,
(Like anchor'd vessels on the swelling tide)
That rise and sink, alternate, as they go,
Now bent the knee, now lifted on the toe,
The sidelong step that works its even way,
The slow pas-grave, and slower balancé-
Still with fix'd gaze he eyes the imagin'd fair,
And turns the corner with an easy air.
Not so his partner-from her 'tangled train
To free her captive foot she strives in vain:
Her 'tangled train the struggling captive holds
(Like great Atrides) in its fatal folds:
The laws of gallantry his aid demand,
The laws of etiquette withhold his hand.
Such pains, such pleasures, now alike are o'er,
And beaux and etiquette shall soon exist no more.

In their stead, behold advancing,
Modern men and women dancing!
Step and dress alike express,
Above, below, from head to toe,
Male and female awkwardness.
Without a hoop, without a ruffle,
One eternal jig and shuffle;
Where's the air, and where's the gait,
Where's the feather in the hat?
Where's the frizz'd toupee, and where,
Oh, where's the powder for their hair?
Where are all their former graces?
And where three-quarters of their faces?
With half the forehead lost, and half the chin,
We know not where they end, or where begin.

Mark the pair whom favouring fortune
At the envy'd top shall place-
Humbly they the rest importune
To vouchsafe a little space.

Not the graceful arm to wave in,
Or the silken robe expand;
All superfluous action saving,
Idly drops the lifeless hand.

Her down-cast eye, the modest beauty
Sends, as doubtful of their skill,
To see if feet perform their duty,
And their endless task fulfil;
Footing, footing, footing, footing,
Footing, footing, footing still.

While the rest, in hedge-row state,
All insensible to sound,
With more than human patience wait,
Like trees fast rooted in the ground:

Not such as once, with sprightly motion,
To distant music stirr'd their stumps,
And tript, from Pelion to the ocean,
Performing avenues and clumps;

What time old Jason's ship, the Argo,
Orpheus fiddling at the helm,
From Colchis bore her golden cargo,
Dancing o'er the azure main.

But why recur to ancient story,
Or balls of modern date?
Be mine to trace the minuet's fate,
And weep its fallen glory:

To ask who rang the parting knell?
If Vestris came the solemn dirge to hear?
Genius of Valoüy, didst thou hover near?
Shade of Lepicq! and spirit of Gondel!

I saw their angry forms arise,
Where wreaths of smoke involve the skies,
Above St. James's steeple:
I heard them curse our heavy heel,
The Irish step, the Highland reel,
And all the United People.
To the dense air the curse, adhesive, clung,
Repeated since by many a modish tongue,
In words that may be said, but never shall be sung.


'Go to the d-l and shake yourself,'-the name of a favorite country dance.

What cause untimely urged the minuet's fate?
Did war subvert the manners of the state?
Did savage nations give the barbarous law,
The Gaul Cisalpine, or the Gonoquaw?
Its fall was destined to a peaceful land,
A sportive pencil, and a courtly hand;
They left a name that time itself might spare
To grinding organs and the dancing bear.

On Avon's banks, where sport and laugh
Careless pleasure's sons and daughters,
Where health the sick and aged quaff,
From good king Bladud's healing waters;
While Genius sketched, and Humour grouped,
Then it sickened, then it drooped,
Saddened with laughter, wasted with a sneer,
And the long minuet shortened its career.
With cadence slow, and solemn pace,
Th' indignant mourner quits the place,
For ever quits-no more to roam
From proud Augusta's regal dome.
Ah! not unhappy who securely rest
Within the sacred precincts of a court;
Who then their timid steps shall dare arrest?
White wands shall guide them and gold sticks support.

In vain-these eyes, with tears of horror wet,
Read its death-warrant in the Court Gazette.
'No ball to-night,' Lord Chamberlain proclaims,
'No ball to-night shall grace thy roof, St. James!'
'No ball!' the Globe, the Sun, the Stars repeat,
The morning paper, and the evening sheet:
Thro' all the land the tragic news has spread,
And all the land has mourn'd the minuet dead.
So, power completes, but satire sketch'd the plan,
And Cecil ends what Bunbury began.

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