Thursday, 19 November 2015

People watching in the rooms in the 1770's

Philip Thickness the writer, traveller and fortune hunter in his book "The New Prose Bath Guide: for the year 1778" gives a characteristically sharp account of dancing in the rooms.

Philip Thickness in 1757
Speaking of the then relatively new Upper Rooms he says:

"on a Ball-Night, in a full Season, when all the Benches are filled with Ladies in full Dress, the Rooms magnificently lighted by wax, the Splendour of the Lustres, Girondoles,"

The lighting of the rooms was one of the things which contributed to their reputation for magnificence because of the wonderful cut glass chandeliers (lustres) and many branched candle sticks (girondoles) all of which contained very expensive wax candles rather than the much more common cheaper alternatives such as tallow.

"and the superlative Charms of so many lovely Women, whose natural Beauties being awakened by the Variety of Amusements which, on all Sides, surround them—renders it one of the most pleasing Sights that the Imagination of Man can conceive ; and what, we are convinced, no other Part of Europe can boast of; yet, in spite of all these Advantages, we much doubt, whether it be true that the Upper Rooms shew Female Beauty so advantageously as the Lower. There is a certain Degree of Light to fee Nature, as well as Art, to Advantage; and we know that the Painters give us only a small Proportion, not all the Light they could throw upon their Works. We have examined too, with a Degree of particular Attention, some of the most admired Beauties of the last and present Season, at both the Rooms, and, as far as we could determine, they were either best pleased, or most beautiful, under the lower than the higher Lights."

Robe a l'Anglaise - 1770-75

The Lower Rooms being some 18 feet lower than the Upper Rooms must, on this theory, have shown ladies off to considerable advantage.

"It is always remarked by Foreigners, that the English Nation, of both Sexes, look as grave when they are dancing, as if they were attending the Solemnity of a Funeral. This Charge is in general true ; and as a Minuet, danced gracefully, is the Light, of all others, in which a fine Woman can shew herself to most Advantage, we strongly recommend it to the Ladies to remove this national Charge, and to consider, that the Features and Countenance ought to be in Unison, and as perfectly in Tune with the Body, as the Instruments are which direct its Motions. And that that Sort of bewitching Look, bordering on the Smile, which always accompanies cheerful Conversation, should never be omitted in the Dance. As to the Gentleman, we agree with Mr. Hogarth, that it is more his Business to attend to a proper Manner of conducting the Lady in the Dance, than of shewing himself; but neither one, or the other, should dance in so public an Assembly as Bath, unless they are quite sure they dance with some Degree of Grace and Ease ; and as few People can be Judges of their own Excellence in any Respect, and particularly in Dancing, every Body should consult some faithful, not flattering Friend, on this Business, before they let themselves off in a Minuet. Beside which, we are confident, that there are many Ladies and Gentlemen who can dance very well in private, but who often fail in public. The Truth is, there is a certain Degree of necessary and confidential Boldness, without which, no Person can dance perfectly well. How many fine Women do we see totter with Fear, when they are taken out to dance? And is it possible, that such who cannot walk firmly should be able to dance gracefully?

We are aware that the Ladies think Gravity of Countenance a necessary Attendant on Modesty and Sentiment; but, till they can prove that a cheerful pleasing Smile is incompatible with Virtue, Prudence, or Discretion, we must beg Leave (while we allow them all imaginable Praise, for such ill-placed Precaution) to assure them, that they cannot bestow, on mortal Man, a more pleasing nor a more innocent Mark of their Public Favour, than by shewing their Features, under the Advantage of a Smile. Even Venus herself, were we to paint her surprised going into her Bath, it should be, withdrawing herself from the Eyes of the Beholders with a bashful Smile. Let it be remembered, though, that the loud Laugh, and the giggling Titter, should be always avoided, being neither consistent with good Breeding, nor good Policy."

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