Saturday, August 17, 2013

Another Ball in Antwerp - an abundance of light and an abundance of champagne, February 7, 1842

Gentleman and Lady in Ballroom Dress, January 1846

Our friend is attending yet another ball in Antwerp.

I wish he'd spent more time counting candles so that we could form a scientific estimate of the lighting levels. As it is, he just leaves us with the impression that the lighting is very bright.

At this ball, the refreshments are served by waiters with trays. There are no plates or silverware, it's all finger food. There is plentiful champagne, enough that it is up to the guests to regulate their intake.

After the supper, many dancers would have gone home or gone on to other parties. The dancing becomes less formal, consisting of waltzes, where you dance more intimately with a single partner, with the cotillon, a patterned dance where everyone interacts in a more informal way.

A ball at Madame de Kipdorp's. Many of the Flemish aristocracy still follow out the old-fashioned custom of coming, for their town season, to the capital of their province, instead of spending it in Brussels or Paris. It is well known, that in England, before the improved facilities of travelling,—and the disposition, which is so marked a feature of modern times, to elaborate and intensify everything, even our pleasures (as in the luxurious days of ancient Rome) up to the highest attainable degree,—had gradually introduced that system of centralization, under which the wealthy and independent classes now flock annually to London, for their city life, the same practice prevailed, the country gentlemen having their houses in the provincial towns of their respective neighbourhoods, where, for a certain season, they used to form a society of their own. The custom, which is a wholesome one in many points of view, still lingers in parts of the Continent, but it cannot live long anywhere. Voltaire somewhere writes of the limited society of small communities, as affording the most favourable circumstances for the thorough enjoyment of social intercourse.

A few particulars of this bal noble, as the phrase is here, at the Baron de Kipdorp's, may not be uninteresting, if merely as shewing that it was much the same as any other ball,—and I have already given specimens.

The rooms used were on the ground-floor, moderately spacious, and handsomely, without being at all extravagantly furnished. They were en suite, —an entrance hall, filled with plants and flowers, —on one hand a card room, and on the other an anteroom, and a saloon beyond. The dancing was carried on in the latter room: its walls were painted in imitation of white marble, and were divided into compartments by pilasters: the ceiling, a flat one, was thrown into geometrical forms by panelling and mouldings, all being in a plain and chaste style. I am thus particular, and have been so before, in giving details of this sort, because I consider the average of continental taste as applied to interior architecture and decoration, to be notably superior to our own.

Light was abundant, and this is a point of effect which seems to be always carefully attended to here: for instance, this ball-room, perhaps forty feet long by twenty-five wide, was lighted by a large chandelier of twenty or thirty wax candles, hanging from the centre of the ceiling, a large candelabrum in each corner, and numerous lights fixed at intervals round the walls: the effect may be said to have been in excess, and was increased by the reflexion from the polished white surfaces of the walls, the pure flat white of the ceiling, and the prevalence of white in the ladies' dresses.

Ices, and other assuagements of the heat and fever of the hour, were carried about, and the supper was conducted upon the simple plan of bringing it in on trays, in the form of sandwiches and confectionery, plates and knives and forks being altogether omitted: the wine was served out after the same ambulatory fashion, and included champagne at discretion, which, I have observed, commonly means, without any discretion at all,—a great point however in champagne drinking, which will not endure stint. The dancing died away in a cotillon, and waltzing, taken like the champagne, at discretion.

In this hospitable city, a reception at one house opens for you the doors of another, and, as had happened to me elsewhere, at Madame de Kipdorp's, a lady whom I there saw for the first time, kindly engaged me for a soiree at her house on the following night.

(Antwerp. A Journal kept there. London: John Olivier, 1847. p. 167-170.)

1840s Fashion Plate

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