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English lines that will do duty for Herameters are the easiest things possible to write — easier than any kind of rhyme. Real English Hexameters are harder to write than real Blank Verse, and à fortiori harder than any kind of ryhme. Even these are chiefly valuable as tours de force. Sir Philip Sidney wrote Hexameters in his day, so did Southey in his, so do Hare, Whewell, Longfellow, Clough, cum multis aliis, at the present time; but the metre is never likely to be popular. We say this not on account of any particular unfitness in the Hexameter for the purposes of modern versification, so much as on the general principle that erotic metres cannot be successfully introduced into a language already supplied with measures of verse. A strong instance of this is afforded by the German Trochaic Stanza of Five-Trochee lines, with Cataletic lines alternating. No one ever read “The Gods of Greece” or “The Bride of Corinth” in the original without being struck with the beauty and grandeur of this metre, yet we will wager that no one prefers Bulwer's translation of the latter poem to Anstey's. Nor has Aytoun's original poem in the same stanza (Hermotinus), though published in Blackwood with a particular description of an eulogy on the measure prefixed, found many admirers or imitators in ten years, and the author has not been tempted to repeat the experiment.
NEW YORK SOCIETY AND THE
Literary World, 1850.
1. Earning a Living. A Comedy in Five Acts. By a Citizen
of New York New York. 1849. 2. Revue du Nouveau Monde. Publiée les ler et 15 de
chaque mois. Par Regis de Trobriand. 3. The Lorgnette; or, Studies of the Town. By an Opera
Goer (weekly). Henry Kernot, New York. SOME fifteen months ago the American Review threw out a hint of the ample field afforded to the satirist in
New York fashionable society, and expressed some surprise that the subject seemed to be left by tacit consent of competent parties, in the hands of Mr. Willis. The field is now, it seems, to be worked in earnest, for the first time (with the above-mentioned exception) since the days of Salmagundi; and we are very glad of it. The observations of educated and refined men upon society and manners are not only amusing in a merely literary point of view, they are of great value to the future historian, and of present importance in representing the country correctly to the eyes of foreigners. One reason why English editors so often take their ideas of American city life from the New York Sewer, and other equally absurd sources, is because American gentlemen have written so little on this topic. The sketches of Mr. Willis, racy and amusing as they usually are, do not supply our desideratum.
After all, much remains to be said on the subject. Thus far our writers have aimed rather at exposing follies than at throwing out any hint of remedies for them. This is a necessary first step, but only the first step. It is very possible that in endeavoring to amend or supply the deductions or want of deductions of these writers, we shall only mar their lucid statement of the premises; still the spirit moves us so strongly to say something, that we must even take our chance. And what we have to say, be it premised out of respect to our friends at a distance, will have reference particularly and solely (unless where otherwise distinctly specified) to New York society, not merely because our Gotham is in some senses, and most certainly in a fashionable sense, the metropolis of the Union, but because to discriminate the differences and shades of fashionable life in our several cities, would require more personal observation than we have devoted to the subject, and more space than these columns allow us.
What then, to begin, are the prominent features of New York fashionable society -- those for instance that would first strike an entire stranger who, armed with the proper letters and habiliments, should tumble in upon the middle of a season? The most remarkable is one which would seem at first sight rather adapted to the observation of the medical than the fashionable traveller,
being a dancing epidemic of the kind well known in the history of physic. Yet such is the power of example and fashion in rendering habitual and ordinary the most abnormal states of mind and body, that we are compelled to place first among the characteristics of our exclusives the Polkamania , or feverish excitement after foreign dances of luscious and familiar character. Such epidemics have been of frequent occurrence.
The Tarantism of Italy, popularly attributed by the ignorant peasantry of that country to the bite of the Tarantula or groundspider, is the most notorious. “In the fourteenth century, soon after the terrible pestilence of the Black Death” (we quote from Dr. Hecker, as translated in a recent number of the Westminster), “a new epidemic appeared in Europe of an extraordinary character, showing itself in a violent and involuntary motion of the muscles of the legs. The physicians of the time formed the idea that if the patients were encouraged to dance until they fell down exhausted with the fatigue of the exertion, a reaction would commence by which a cure might be promoted. Bands of music were, therefore, provided for the use of the afflicted, and airs of the Polka character were composed, to suit the wild Bacchanalian leaps which their dancing resembled. * The common notion of the time, countenanced by the clergy, was, that the persons afflicted were possessed, and the patients themselves generally fell into the same belief, and acted accordingly."
The present epidemic seems to have become local in these parts during the youth of that generation which is just stepping off the stage, and we learn from an erudite historian cited in the 17th No. of Salmagundi, that the town is indebted for it to our friend de Trobriand's countrymen. This veracious traveller describes with much homely pathos how
"Gotham city conquered was
And how the folks turned apes." How the Hoppingtots (an obvious synonyme for the Gauls), "being impelled by a superfluity of appetite and a deficiency of the wherewithal to satisfy the same," resolved to invade our ancient and venerable city, and accordingly “capered towards the devoted place with a horrible and appalling chattering of voices." How “when
their army did peregrinate within sight of Gotham, and the people beheld the villanous and hitherto unseen capers which they made, a most horrific panic was stirred up among the citizens;" how the invaders pursued their siege day and night until “the fortification of the town began to give manifest symptoms of decay, inasmuch as the breastwork of decency was considerably broken down and the curtain work of propriety blown up;" how the Gothamites “made some semblance of defence, but their women having been all won over to the interest of the enemy, they were soon reduced to abject submission;" how the conquerors put them all to the fiddle without mercy; and terminates his melancholy narrative with this affecting conclusion : “They have waxed to be most flagrant, outrageous, and abandoned dancers; they do ponder on noughte but how to gallantize it at balls, routs, and fandangos, insomuch that the like was in no time or place ever observed before. They do moreover devote their nights to the jollification of the legs and their days to the instruction of the heel. And to conclude: their young folk who whilome did bestow a modicum of leisure upon the improvement of the head, have of late utterly abandoned this hopeless task, and have quietly as it were settled themselves down into mere machines wound up by a tune and set in motion by a fiddle-stick."
A New York fashionable of either sex, between private rehearsals and public performances, usually occupies about seven hours of the twenty-four for six days out of seven in the practice of the Polka, Redowa, Schottisch, and other dances of the free and affectionate character. In summer at a fashionable watering place, these seven hours are not unfrequently extended to ten or eleven. In fact it is the main business of their lives; what was said in joke of Margaret Fuller, is true of them in sober earnest: dancing is what they call religion. Of course the immediate and necessary inference is that a man who does not dance perpetually has no business in society. When de Trobriand said that “a Ball ought not to be a meeting consecrated exclusively to the waltz or the polka, but a combination of all the elements of social life with a view to pleasure,” his remark, which to an intelligent foreigner would seem but an allowable truism, must have been a startling paradox for many of his
readers. When he said that “the dance usurps all the floor, and the talkers, hunted from wall to wall and from door to door, are generally obliged to abandon their conversation," he did not use the language of exaggeration or caricature, but of simple truth, nay of truth understated. For he might have gone on to say, that if they do find refuge in some "protecting embrasure of a window or corner of a hall," the extraordinary circumstance of two persons preferring conversation to dancing, renders them marked at once, and the young people who are twisting about the room in each other's arms, have time, in the midst of the most affectionate embrace or operatic display, to keep an eye on Mr. Blank and Miss Dash, who are talking behind the window-curtain, and to invent some choice narrative about them afterwards.
The next striking feature in our fashionable society is its monopoly by the younger members of it. A stranger's first remark to himself on entering a New York Ballroom is, that he has fallen among a society of boys and girls. Nor do strangers only remark this; the native habitué is often heard to complain aloud that, just at the age when best qualified by maturity and experience to assume his proper place in society, he is ousted by some brainless boy who is better skilled in the last modification of the newest dance. Now, such a state of things would seem naturally to arise from the tacit admission that dancing the polka is the sole end of society, for very young people dance better than older ones, and are better posted up in saltatory intelligence. But here at starting a discrimination should be made, as yet unmade we believe, but very perceptible and very important. The measure of juvenility is not the same in both sexes. The women have their share, if not their fair share, of maturity. Married, nay single ladies of thirty - say twentyeight, are among our most eager and ceaseless polkers; married women of thirty-five who retain their good looks (and there are some such) do sometimes venture out into society, and even at a ball attract some part of the attention which is their due, thus adding another to the many instances of the power of beauty, which overcomes even the fascinations of the Redowa. The average age of bringing a young lady "out" is not much younger in New York than in London. It is of teh