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had not told me that in this lady I should see a genuine Frenchwoman, wholly free from affectation or stiffness of behavior, and one of the best women in the world. For this I must take the Doctor's word; but I should have set her down for a very bad one, although sixty years of age, and a widow. I own I was highly disgusted, and never wish for an acquaintance with any ladies of this cast. After dinner she threw herself upon a settee, where she showed more than her feet. She had a little lap-dog, who was, next to the Doctor, her favorite.
OPERA GIRLS IN THE LAST CENTURY.
[From a Letter to Mrs. Cranch.—Auteuil, 20 February, 1785.]
THIS day eight months I sailed for Europe, since which many new
and interesting scenes have presented themselves before me. I have seen many of the beauties, and some of the deformities, of this old world. I have been more than ever convinced, that there is no summit of virtue, and no depth of vice, which human nature is not capable of rising to, on the one hand, or sinking into, on the other. I have felt the force of an observation, which I have read, that daily example is the most subtile of poisons. I have found my taste reconciling itself to habits, customs, and fashions, which at first disgusted me. The first dance which I saw upon the stage shocked me; the dresses and beauty of the performers were enchanting; but, no sooner did the dance commence, than I felt my delicacy wounded, and I was ashamed to be seen to look at them. Girls, clothed in the thinnest silk and gauze, with their petticoats short, springing two feet from the floor, poising themselves in the air, with their feet flying, and as perfectly showing their garters and drawers as though no petticoat had been worn, was a sight altogether new to me. Their motions are as light as air, and as quick as lightning; they balance themselves to astonishment. No description can equal the reality. They are daily trained to it, from early infancy, at a royal academy, instituted for this purpose. You will very often see little creatures, not more than seven or eight years old, as undauntedly performing their parts as the eldest among them. Shall I speak a truth, and say that repeatedly seeing these dances has worn off that disgust, which I at first felt, and that I see them now with pleasure? Yet, when I consider the tendency of these things, the passions they must excite, and the known character, even to a proverb, which is attached to an opera girl, my abhorrence is not lessened, and neither my reason nor judgment has accompanied my sensibility in acquiring any degree of
callousness. The art of dancing is carried to the highest degree of perfection that it is capable of. At the opera, the house is neither so grand, nor of so beautiful architecture, as the French theatre, but it is more: frequented by the beau monde, who had rather be amused than instructed. The scenery is more various and more highly decorated, the dresses more costly and rich. And O! the music, vocal and instrumental; it has a soft, persuasive power, and a dying sound. Conceive a highly decorated building, filled with youth, beauty, grace, ease, clad in all the most pleasing and various ornaments of dress, which fancy can form; these objects singing like cherubs to the best tuned instruments, most skilfully handled, the softest, tenderest strains; every attitude corresponding with the music; full of the god or goddess whom they celebrate; the female voices accompanied by an equal number of Adonises. Think you that this city can fail of becoming a Cythera, and this house the temple of Venus?
"When music softens, and when dancing fires,"
it requires the immortal shield of the invincible Minerva, to screen youth. from the arrows which assail them on every side.
As soon as a girl sets her foot upon the floor of the opera, she is excommunicated by the Church, and denied burial in holy ground. She conceives nothing worse can happen to her; all restraint is thrown off, and she delivers herself to the first who bids high enough for her. But let me turn from a picture, of which the outlines are but just sketched; I would willingly veil the rest, as it can only tend to excite sentiments of horror.
AT ST. JAMES'S.
[From a Letter to Mrs. Cranch.-London, 24 June, 1785.]
ONGRATULATE me, my dear sister, it is over.
I was too much fatigued to write a line last evening. At two o'clock we went to the circle, which is in the drawing-room of the Queen. We passed through several apartments, lined as usual with spectators upon these occasions. Upon entering the antechamber, the Baron de Lynden, the Dutch Minister, who has been often here, came and spoke with me. A Count Sarsfield, a French nobleman, with whom I was acquainted, paid his compliments. As I passed into the drawing-room, Lord Carmarthen and Sir Clement Cotterel Dormer were presented to me. Though they had been several times here, I had never seen them before. The Swedish and the Polish ministers made their compliments, and several other gen
tlemen; but not a single lady did I know until the Countess of Effingham came, who was very civil. There were three young ladies, daughters of the Marquis of Lothian, who were to be presented at the same time, and two brides. We were placed in a circle round the drawing-room, which was very full, I believe two hundred persons present. Only think of the task! The royal family have to go round to every person, and find small talk enough to speak to all of them, though they very prudently speak in a whisper, so that only the person who stands next you can hear what is said. The King enters the room, and goes round to the right; the Queen and Princesses to the left. The lord in waiting presents you to the King; and the lady in waiting does the same to her Majesty. The King is a personable man, but, my dear sister, he has a certain countenance, which you and I have often remarked; a red face and white eyebrows. The Queen has a similar countenance, and the numerous royal family confirm the observation. Persons are not placed according to their rank in the drawing-room, but promiscuously; and when the King comes in, he takes persons as they stand. When he came to me, Lord Onslow said, "Mrs. Adams;" upon which I drew off my right-hand glove, and his Majesty saluted my left cheek; then asked me if I had taken a walk to-day. I could have told his Majesty that I had been all the morning preparing to wait upon him; but I replied, "No, Sire." "Why, don't you love walking?" says he. I answered, that I was rather indolent in that respect. He then bowed, and passed on.
It was more than two hours after this before it came to my turn to be presented to the Queen. The circle was so large that the company were four hours standing. The Queen was evidently embarrassed when I was presented to her. I had disagreeable feelings too. She, however, said, "Mrs. Adams, have you got into your house? Pray, how do you like the situation of it?" Whilst the Princess Royal looked compassionate, and asked me if I was not much fatigued; and observed that it was a very full drawing-room. Her sister, who came next, Princess Augusta, after having asked your niece if she was ever in England before, and her answering "Yes," inquired of me how long ago, and supposed it was. when she was very young. And all this is said with much affability, and the ease and freedom of old acquaintance. The manner in which they make their tour round the room is, first, the Queen, the lady in waiting behind her, holding up her train; next to her, the Princess Royal; after her, Princess Augusta, and their lady in waiting behind them. They are pretty, rather than beautiful, well shaped, with fair complexions, and a tincture of the King's countenance. The two sisters look much alike; they were both dressed in black and silver silk, with a silver netting upon the coat, and their heads full of diamond pins. The Queen was in purple and silver. She is not well shaped nor hand
As to the ladies of the Court, rank and title may compensate for want of personal charms; but they are, in general, very plain, illshaped, and ugly; but don't you tell anybody that I say so. If one wants to see beauty, one must go to Ranelagh; there it is collected, in one bright constellation. There were two ladies very elegant, at Court,— Lady Salisbury and Lady Talbot; but the observation did not in general hold good, that fine feathers make fine birds. I saw many who were vastly richer dressed than your friends, but I will venture to say, that I saw none neater or more elegant.
THE AMBASSADOR'S BALL.
[From a Letter to Miss Lucy Cranch.—London, 2 April, 1786.]
O amuse you then, my dear niece, I will give you an account of the dress of the ladies at the ball of the Comte d'Adhémar; as your cousin tells me that she some time ago gave you a history of the birthday and ball at Court, this may serve as a counterpart. Though, should I attempt to compare the apartments, St. James's would fall as much short of the French Ambassador's, as the Court of his Britannic Majesty does of the splendor and magnificence of that of his Most Christian Majesty. I am sure I never saw an assembly room in America, which did not exceed that at St. James's in point of elegance and decoration; and, as to its fair visitors, not all their blaze of diamonds, set off with Parisian rouge, can match the blooming health, the sparkling eye, and modest deportment of the dear girls of my native land. As to the dancing, the space they had to move in gave them no opportunity to display the grace of a minuet, and the full dress of long court-trains and enormous hoops, you well know were not favorable for country dances, so that I saw them at every disadvantage; not so the other evening. They were much more properly clad;-silk waists, gauze or white or painted tiffany coats decorated with ribbon, beads, or flowers, as fancy directed, were chiefly worn by the young ladies. Hats turned up at the sides with diamond loops and buttons of steel, large bows of ribbons and wreaths of flowers, displayed themselves to much advantage upon the heads of some of the prettiest girls England can boast. The light from the lustres is more favorable to beauty than daylight, and the color acquired by dancing, more becoming than rouge, as fancy dresses are more favorable to youth than the formality of a uniform. There was as great a variety of pretty dresses, borrowed wholly from France, as I have ever seen; and amongst the rest, some with sapphire-blue satin waists, spangled with silver, and
laced down the back and seams with silver stripes; white satin petticoats trimmed with black and blue velvet ribbon; an odd kind of head-dress, which they term the "helmet of Minerva." I did not observe the bird of wisdom, however, nor do I know whether those who wore the dress had suitable pretensions to it. "And pray," say you, "how were my aunt and cousin dressed?" If it will gratify you to know, you shall hear. Your aunt, then, wore a full-dress court cap without the lappets, in which was a wreath of white flowers, and blue sheafs, two black and blue flat feathers (which cost her half a guinea apiece, but that you need not tell of), three pearl pins, bought for Court, and a pair of pearl earrings, the cost of them-no matter what; less than diamonds, however. A sapphire-blue demi-saison with a satin stripe, sack and petticoat trimmed with a broad black lace; crape flounce, etc.; leaves made of blue ribbon, and trimmed with white floss; wreaths of black velvet ribbon spotted with steel beads, which are much in fashion, and brought to such perfection as to resemble diamonds; white ribbon also in the Vandyke style, made up of the trimming, which looked very elegant; a full-dress handkerchief, and a bouquet of roses. "Full gay, I think, for my aunt." That is true, Lucy, but nobody is old in Europe. I was seated next the Duchess of Bedford, who had a scarlet satin sack and coat, with a cushion full of diamonds, for hair she has none, and is but seventy-six, neither. Well, now for your cousin; a small, white Leghorn hat, bound with pink satin ribbon; a steel buckle and band which turned up at the side, and confined a large pink bow; a large bow of the same kind of ribbon behind; a wreath of full-blown roses round the crown, and another of buds and roses withinside the hat, which being placed at the back of the hair, brought the roses to the edge; you see it clearly; one red and black feather, with two white ones, completed the head-dress. A gown and coat of Chambéri gauze, with a red satin stripe over a pink waist, and coat flounced with crape, trimmed with broad point and pink ribbon; wreaths of roses across the coat; gauze sleeves and ruffles. But the poor girl was so sick with a cold, that she could not enjoy herself, and we retired about one o'clock without waiting supper, by which you have lost half a sheet of paper, I dare say; but I cannot close without describing to you Lady North and her daughter. She is as large as Captain C's wife, and much such a made woman, with a much fuller face, of the color and complexion of Mrs. C, who formerly lived with your uncle Palmer, and looks as if porter and beef stood no chance before her; add to this, that it is covered with large red pimples, over which, to help the natural redness, a coat of rouge is spread; and, to assist her shape, she was dressed in white satin, trimmed with scarlet ribbon. Miss North is not so large, nor quite so red, but has a very small eye with the most. impudent face you can possibly form an idea of, joined to manners so