Saturday, December 29, 2012

Frozen Charlotte

La Sortie du Bal, by Joseph-Désiré Court. This lady is not dressed warmly enough for riding in a sleigh in upstate New York.

You didn't think it could get any worse, did you? Now when your mother tells you to dress more warmly, you will know that the alternative is to be memorialized in poetry.


The incident, from which the following ballad is woven, was given in the papers three or four years ago as a fact. It was stated, that a young lady in the country, while riding some distance to a ball on New Year's evening, actually froze to death.

Young Charlotte lived by the mountain side,
A wild and lonely spot;
No dwelling there, for three miles round,
Except her father's cot;

And yet on many a winter's eve
Young swains were gather'd there,
For her father kept a social board,
And she was very fair.

Her father loved to see her dress'd
As prim as a city belle,
For she was all the child he had,
And he loved his daughter well.

'Tis New Year's eve—the sun is down—
Why looks her restless eye
So long from the frosty window forth,
As the merry sleighs go by?

At the village inn, fifteen miles off,
Is a merry ball to-night—
The piercing air is cold as death,
But her heart is warm and light;

And brightly beams her laughing eye,
As a well-known voice she hears; 
And dashing up to the cottage door
Her Charley's sleigh appears.

"Now daughter dear," her mother cried,
"This blanket round you fold,
"For 'tis a dreadful night abroad,
"You'll catch your death a-cold."

"O nay, O nay," fair Charlotte said,
And she laugh'd like a gipsy queen,
"To ride with blankets muffled up
"I never could be seen—

"My silken cloak is quite enough;
"You know 'tis lined throughout;
"And then I have a silken shawl
"To tie my neck about."

Her bonnet and her gloves are on,
She jumps into the sleigh;
And swift they ride by the mountain side,
And over the hills away.

There's life in the sound of the merry bells,
As over the hills they go;
But a creaking wail the runners make,
As they bite the frozen snow.

How long the bleak and lonely way!
How keen the wind does blow!
The stars did never shine so cold—
How creaks the frozen snow!

With muffled faces, silently,
Five cold, long miles they've pass'd,
And Charles, with these few frozen words,
The silence broke at last—

"Such night as this I never saw—
"The reins I scarce can hold;"
And Charlotte, shivering, faintly said,
"I am exceeding cold." 
He crack'd his whip, and urged his steed
More swiftly than before,
And now five other dreary miles
In silence are pass'd o'er—

"How fast," said Charles the freezing ice
"Is gathering on my brow;" 
But Charlotte said, with feebler lone.
"I'm growing warmer now." 
And on they went through the frosty air
And the glittering, cold star-light;
And now at last the village inn
And the ball-room are in sight.

They reach the door, and Charles jumps out,
And holds his hand to her— 
Why sits she like a monument,
That hath no power to stir 

He call'd her once—he call'd her twice—
She answer'd not a word;
He ask'd her for her hand again,
But still she never stirr'd—

He took her hand in his—O God!
'Twas cold and hard as stone; 
He tore the mantle from her face;
The cold stars on her shone—

Then quickly to the lighted hall
Her voiceless form he bore—
His Charlotte was a stiffen'd corpse,
And word spake never more!

( The Rover: a weekly magazine of Tales, Poetry and Engravings, Edited by Seba Smith. Volume 2.  New York: S.B.Deane, 1844. p. 225)

Friday, December 28, 2012

A Corpse Going to a Ball

Let's end the year with a cautionary tale. Don't forget to dress warmly when you travel to a ball.

From the New York Observer.

Those who read the thrilling "passages from the diary of a London Physician," that were published a few years since, will remember one tale under the title of "Death at the Toilet." Although it was asserted by the writer that those narratives were the records of facts, few, I presume, were willing to believe that real life could furnish matter of such romantic interest. Especially did the one alluded to strike my own mind as quite unnatural and I read it, as others, admiring the genius more than the veracity of the writer.

Perhaps some who have seen the words at the head of this article may imagine that they are about to be treated to a passage from the dreams of fancy; but they are mistaken. I have a sad and solemn tale of truth to relate, and when it has been read, there will be no hestation in believing that "truth is stranger than fiction.' No coloring shall be laid on the story: no art of embellishment shall heighten its interest: it shall be told to others as it was told to me, and you shall be convinced that there is nothing more than truth in the story of a corpse that went to a ball.

You recollect the first day of January, 1840. It was a bitter cold day. It was cold as far south as the city of New York, and up here in the country, where I am writing, it was terribly severe. You could not ride far against the wind without being exposed to freezing. I have heard of two cases of death by cold on that day in this region, and of another case in which the sufferer was saved by great exertion, when at the point of perishing.

The night of that day was to be observed, as is usual here, by a New Year's ball. Invitations had been extended for many miles around, and a great gathering of the young, and gay, and thoughtless, was expected.— Extensive preparations had been made for an evening of merriment and glee, and merry hearts beat quickly in anticipation of the pleasures of the scene. None was happier in the thought of coming joy than Miss — who took her seat in the sleigh, by the side of her partner for the evening, and set our for a ride of some twenty miles, to join the dance.

She was young and gay, and her charms of youth and beauty never were lovelier than when dressed for that New Year's ball. Of course too thinly clad for the season, and especially for that dreadful day, she had not gone far before she complained of being cold, very cold; but their anxiety to reach the end of their ride in time to be present at the opening of the dance, induced them to hurry onward without stopping by the way. Not long after this complaining, she said that she felt perfectly comfortable, was now quite warm and that there was no necessity of delay on her account. They reached, at length, the house where the company were gathering ; the young man leaped from the sleigh, and extended his hand to assist her out, but she did not offer hers; he spoke to her, but she answered not; she was dead—stone dead—frozen stiff—a corpse on the way to a ball.

But the most shocking part of the tale is yet to be told; The Ball Went On!!! The dance was as merry, and the music was as sweet, as if one of the invited guests had not been called into eternity.

Is this last statement doubted? I remember reading of a ball in New Hampshire, a few years since, at which four young men retired to play cards, and while at their game, one of the number fell in a fit and expired. The rest rolled his body under the table, and covered it up with cloaks, and said nothing about it till the ball was over.

In the village in which I lived for many years there was a ball but a few steps from my house, and one of the young ladies who was to be there died suddenly on the very day of the ball. It was proposed by one of the managers to postpone the dance, but the others would not consent, and on it went, although the corpse lay in a house directly in front of the ball-room, and the dim light could be seen by every dancer, and the sound of the music and dancing disturbed the melancholy watchers.

W. (Supplements to the Connecticut Courant, for the years 1840 and 1841. Vol 6,  Hartford: John L. Boswell. p. 31 (vol.6, No. 4, Saturday, February 15, 1840.))

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Monday, December 17, 2012

How to dance Pop Goes the Weasel at Fezziwig's Ball

This is how we dance Pop Goes The Weasel in Boston. If you attend a ball in another place, you should pay attention to see if they dance it differently. There were different variations in the nineteenth century and still more ways that modern dancers could interpret them.

I often begin with the music so slow that all the dancers are comfortable walking it. Four bars equals eight beats. Eight walking steps match the beats perfectly. Once everyone understands the pattern, we can speed up the music to the point that the dancers are comfortable trotting through the dance. Many directions call for the dancers to run.

The first couple trots down the center of the dance, turning as individuals on counts seven and eight to face back up towards the top. (4 bars)

They trot up the center and on count eight they are in their original places, but facing out. (4 bars)

They trot down the outside of the dance and turn on counts seven and eight, (4 bars)

They trot up the outside and on count eight they are just inside their original places facing down the set (4 bars)

The first couple takes hands in a circle with the second lady. They circle to the right for eight counts. Ideally, this takes them to the places where they started the circle. (4 bars)

The three circle to the left for 4 counts. Ideally, this takes them opposite the places where they started the circle. (2 bars)

The first couple lift their joined hands (the gentleman's right and the lady's left) to make an arch and gently lead the second lady towards the arch with their other hands. The second lady drops hands and ducks under the arch. All this is done in quick succession during the 4 counts. (2 bars)

The first couple does not release their joined hands. The gentleman backs up a little bit and begins walking to his right, leading the lady into a circle with the second gentleman. The three circle right for 8 counts. Ideally this will take them to a similar place as the right turn with the lady did. (4 bars)

The three circle left for 4 counts. Ideally, this brings them to the opposite places. (2 bars)

The first couple lift their joined hands to make an arch and gently lead the second gentleman towards the arch with their other hands. The second gentleman drops hands and ducks under the arch. All this is done in quick succession during the 4 counts. (2 bars)

The first couple stays active and repeats the 32 bars of the dance.

To make the transition from the end of the first repeat and the beginning of the second repeat, these two things must happen:
The first couple still has their hands joined. The first lady backs up and to her left a bit so that the couple is facing down the set, ready to begin the figure again.
The second couple, who have just been "popped", each take a big step towards the top of the hall, into the first couple's original position.

The effect of the second lady and gentleman stepping up is to create a gap below them for the first couple to cut through. It is important for the first couple to remember who they just "popped" and to circle and pop the next couple down. The first couple might, however, forget in the excitement of trotting hither and yon. The second couple should assume the responsibility of gently refusing to dance with the first couple after their turn is over.

Often we start this dance with every third couple active. This means that in each "set" there is an active couple, a couple that gets "popped" and a spacer couple. In other places they dance this with every other couple active, but we have found that in rooms with a lot of inexperienced dancers, having that third, spacer, couple is very helpful.

Progression: The first couple dances the first time through the figure with the second couple. They dance the second time through the figure with the third couple. On the third time through they dance with the fourth couple and the second couple starts paying attention. When the active couple "pops" the fourth gentleman, the second couple begins with the trot down the center. This is in keeping with the original sources which say that the second couple should only begin after the first couple has danced 3 or 4 times through the figure.  As each couple reaches the top of the set, they wait out for two times through and then dance with the couple just below them. Waiting through two sequences means that the sets continue to have the three couples.

The first couple stays active until they reach the bottom of the set. They then become inactive and are repeatedly "popped" until they reach the top of the set and stop moving. If the sets are quite long, or if the music is quite short, they may not get back to the top of the set.