Monday, 9 March 2015

Masked balls much more than masks

In the 15th June 1769 edition of the Bath Chronicle the following description of the previous week's masked ball thrown by the Duke of Bolton on his estate at Hackwood near Basingstoke.

'The company began to assemble between seven and eight, and by ten o'clock the rooms were very full of masks. About twelve, five different apartments were opened, in which the most elegant and beautiful sideboards were prepared, the illuminations at which were prettily conceived and finely executed; as were also a lighted temple and some other buildings in the gardens.

Lady Gideon
Mrs Garrick with her husband
The dresses in general were extremely magnificent. The Duchess of Bolton was in the habit of a Tartarian Princess, embroidered with diamonds. Lady Waldegrave, and Lady Mary Hay, as Eastern Sultanas, very richly dressed. Lady Harriet Williams and Lady Gideon were covered with a profusion of jewels. Two young ladies, habited like girls of Patmos, were remarked for their great beauty and dress. Lady Archer in the character of Ovisa. Mr. Askew, of the Guards, in the character of the Devil, and admirably kept up. Mrs. Ligonier was an elegant Savoyard, and a young Lady who accompanied her a beautiful Chanoincie. Garrick made a very fine figure in the Venetian carnival habit. A gentleman in the character of Tiddy Doll [a famous London character who made and sold gingerbread men], displayed great humour. The Duke of Manchester appeared in old English habit. Capt. Deburgh in the character of Osmyn [a character from a popular peice of musical theartre]. Capt. Pye as Tancred [a leader of the first crusade], his Lady as Ruben's wife. Two young ladies in the habit of vestals. Mr. James clothed as Pope, very well supported. Lady Mary Lowther, in the character of an old woman, afforded infinite humour. Lady Stanhope in the character of a French nosegay girl, which she supported with great humour.  The Duke of Bolton wore a domino.
Lady Waldegrave

Mrs Ruben and family
The whole company kept on their masks till about one o'clock, when they removed them down to supper, to which they were conveyed through a corridor beautifully illuminated with waxed lights. They did not begin to depart till past six in the morning, when the ladies seem to think, that the Faro bank had engrossed the attention of the gentlemen after supper. The illuminations inthe woods, and the building erected there, were in admirable taste; and the whole exceedingly well conducted. It is said that there were 270000l. worth of jewels [approximately £37million at today's prices]  between three ladies.'

The following is taken from a letter of 1772 describing a masked ball in Southampton.

"The masked ball, on Thursday last, was not so numerous as a former one about two years ago; however, the characters were in general well supported, particularly that of a Devil, who, on entering the room, welcomed the company to his infernal regions, and expressed his joy at seeing so many of his true and faithful servants in all places; a very good Mother Shipton [ a medieval soothsayer and prophetess]; a Dutch Pedlar; a Tancred [Norman leader of the First Crusade], tolerably well supported; a Running Footman; some Jews, Turks, and Persians, richly dressed; a magnificent Nabob; two very witty Haymakers, who exited the attention of all the beaux; several Shepherds and Shepherdesses; a Milk-maid and her companion, who did not unmask the whole evening."

It is instructive to compare this with Fanny Burney's fictional description of a masquerade in her novel Cecilia which she started writing in 1780 a year in which she came stay in Bath with Hester Thrale. The story is told from the point of view of the heroine who is attending a masquerade for the first time.

"Soon after nine o'clock every room was occupied, and the common crowd of regular masqueraders were dispersed through the various apartments. Dominos [sic] of  no character, and fancy dresses of no meaning, made, as is usual at such meetings, the general herd of the company, for the rest , the men were Spaniards, chimney sweepers, Turks, watchmen, conjurers, and old women; and the ladies, shepherdesses, orange girls, Circassians, gipseys [sic], haymakers, and sultanas.

Cecilia had, as yet, escaped any address beyond the customary enquiry of Do you know me? and a few passing compliments; but when the rooms filled and the general crowd gave general courage, she was attacked in a manner more pointed and singular.

The very first mask who approached her seemed to have nothing less in view than preventing the approach of every other; yet had little reason to hope favour for himself, as the person he represented, of all others least alluring to the view, was the devil! He was black from head to foot, save that two red horns seemed to issue from his forehead; his face was completely covered that the sight only of his eyes was visible, his feet were cloven, and in his right hand." he held a wand of colour of fire."

In the Bath Chronicle January 8th 1801 we hear of Mrs Champneys’ [sic] Masquerade

"Wednesday an elegant suite of apartments were thrown open at Orchardleigh-house [the Champney's ancestral home between Bath and Frome] for the reception of masks, who, to the number of 200, assembled at an early hour. In order to heighten the hilarity of the entertainment, all dominoes were excluded; the characters were numerous, and these, by their frequent change of dress , added  apparently to the catalogue of merry mortals. Among the most popular, a jessery wild goose in search of his daughter, an owl, a lame fiddler, Punch, a most beautiful figure in the dress of a Christ’s Hospital Boy, a Fury clothed in the terrors of infernal paraphernalia pursuing an Orestes, two chattering Barbers, a dancing bear, a pretty milk maid, an elegant representative of a fille de patmos, and a French taylor bien habille galloping on a very
A Fille de Patmos 1700
magnificent goose. This last mask, was exquisite, and by the drollery of its appearance, and the novelty of its accoutrements, preserved its fascination throughout the whole of the diversion. There were a few elegant figures of both sexes, very splendidly dressed, and although the parade and insipidity of finery is inconsistent with the true genius of a masquerade, yet even this is less offensive than noisy nonsense and impertinent clamour. The supper was served in the richest profusion; but from a laudable attention to the severity of “existing circumstances” the use of bread was entirely prohibited."

A masquerade, circa 1808.

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