30 June 2014
“At a meeting held at the Fifth-avenue Hotel, on the 5th of October, 1863, at the call of Messrs. Cisco, Opdyke, Astor, Brown and others, Mayor Opdyke was called to the Chair, and Mr. Theo. Roosevelt appointed Secretary. The Chairman stated the object of the meeting, and it was resolved to invite the officers of the Russian squadron to a ball at the Academy of Music.”
“We learn that the arrangements have been completed, and the preparations are such as will insure the most brilliant entertainment ever given in this country. Irving Hall is to be connected with the Academy of Music by a covered passage-way, some sixteen feet wide. Delmonico has charge of the supper. Bernstein’s Band will perform in Irving Hall, and Grafula and Helmsmuller are to play alternately in the Academy. The ball is to take place on Thursday, the 5th of November.”
Includes a lengthy description of the decorations for the dance floor and supper room. “The grand Russian Ball, the anticipated splendors of which agitate the dreams of all Japonicadom, is close at hand, the date having been fixed for Friday, November 5. The banquets, junketing, speech-making and excursions that have preceded it ring through the length and breadth, not only of America, but even of Europe; and the Cossack sentry, far away on the borders of Caucasia, has by this time caught the rumor of the wonderful friendship displayed by the people of the West for his Supreme Hetman, the Czar. It is quite in place then, that there should be a special flutter here about the crowning festival, and we are happy in being sole, this morning, to communicate some highly interesting particulars on the subject. . . . A fine band of 40 pieces will furnish the music in the supper-room. Two celebrated bands of 50 performers each will furnish music in the Academy. Take the whole festival together and it will surpass in all its features any that have hitherto delighted the great American metropolis.”
“For Sale.—Three tickets to the Russian Ball. No application entertained unless from parties of the highest respectability. Address OMEGA, No. 178 Times Office.”
“Ball In honor of the Officers of the Russian Squadron. Programme of arrangements. The Ball will be given at the Academy of Music, on the evening of the 5th of November, 1863.
1. The doors of the Academy of Music on Irving-place will be opened for the admittance of company at 9 o’clock on the evening of the Ball.
2. The entrance to the Ball-room will be from the main lobby in centre, and the exits on either side by paths designated by vases of flowers.
3. The music will be under the direction of the Floor Committee, and will commence at 10 o’clock by signal from the Chairman, at which moment the gas will be turned on in force. The music will from thenceforth play continuously, following the card prepared by the Committee on Music and Dances.
4. The floor will be under the control of the Floor Committee, whose duties will be to provide partners for the foreign guests, prevent the crowding of any one part of the Ball-room, aid dances in filling sets, and in obtaining space for waltzing.
5. No lady will be admitted on the Ball-Room floor wearing a bonnet, or gentleman carrying a cane or hat. Ladies and gentlemen are required to appear in full evening dress.
6. The House Committee will see the arrangements made by them in various parts of the house for the comfort of guests are properly carried out.
7. The Supper-room will be opened at 11 ½ o’clock. Supper will be served at all times thereafter during the night. Tea and coffee will be served in the north lobby from 10 o’clock during the continuance of the Ball.
8. On entering the covered way leading to the Supper-Room, by the north door of the Academy, on Irving-place, the way will be found divided in the centre by a cord. Parties are desired to keep the division cord to their left hand, in going and returning.
9. Carriages, both in setting down and taking up company, will form in line on the north side of 14th-st., trailing up 4th-av.; they will enter Irving-place singly, and, keeping the west side of the street, turn and deliver their company at the Academy, with their horses’ heads toward 14th-st., and go out of 14th-st. by the 3d av.
10. Parties leaving the Ball will take the first carriage in line, and will be set down at any spot below 45th-st for $2 fare.
11. Each ticket will be numbered, registered and countersigned by the Secretary, admitting one person only, lady or gentleman.
By order of the Committee of Arrangement.”
“Russian Ball—For Sale—Three tickets. Price $25 each.”
Includes a detailed description of the decorations, guests, and dinner, along with a list outlining the order of dances. “The great event in the history of festivities in New-York—the grand fete, in comparison with which all previous ones will pale—the Ball to the Russian Admiral and the officers of his fleet—takes place at the Academy of Music to-night. The Prince of Wales ball and the Japanese were ‘occasions,’ but did not rise to the dignity of ‘events.’ The arrangements for the festivities of this night are characterized by the most refined tastes and princely liberality. We have heretofore given an inkling of the preperations, and this morning it is timely to enter somewhat more into detail…
The Music and the Ball.
There will be two splendid Bands—Grafulla’s for the Promenade and operatic music. Helmsmuller’s for the dancing—both placed in the second tier, next the stage-boxes and opposite each other. At 10 o’clock music commences by the former. At 10 ½ o’clock the Dancing Committee will enter upon the floor with the guests and their partners; positions will be assigned and sets filled; a signal from the Chairman will announce to Grafulla that the momentous period has arrived; a flourish of trumpets will confirm it: a grand and harmonious charge by the band, a sudden bursting into dazzling brilliancy of the, until now, suppressed light; a bowing of a thousand heads, a curtseying of as many graceful forms, a general bobbing to and fro, and the ball has commenced. Of the dances the following is the programme…”
“This grand affair comes off this evening, at the Academy of Music, and, from the arrangements that have been made by the Committee of Management, it promises to eclipse any festivity of the kind ever before held in our city. An entrance similar to that built for the Prince of Wales Ball has been erected at the center of the building in Fourteenth street, at which invited guests only will be admitted. A new dress has been put on the entire house for the occasion, the ornamentation and decorations being exceedingly chaste and elegant. In the center of the main entrance will be a marble bust of Washington, and on either side will be presented a likeness of the late and present Emperors of Russia. Flags of all nations, the American and Russian colors predominating, are gracefully festooned about the house. The stage has been arranged to represent a huge marquee, and will present at the rear a new scenic painting of the Lake of Como.”
Includes a detailed outline of the schedule of events, a description of the invitation tickets, and a lengthy description of the decorations and dress of the attendees. “Last night the grand ball in honor of the officers of the Russian fleet took place at the Academy of Music, and was a jam. Toilettes to distraction on the part of the ladies – the good humor of the gentlemen – the more than Oriental splendor of the whole scene – were all that saved it, if saved it was – which certainly must be considered doubtful. Every arrangement made for the comfort and pleasure of those present was admirably conceived and horribly executed, and no circumstances whatever occurred that did not mar the pleasure that everyone ought to have felt. Our city ladies were more than usually resplendent in appearance and apparel; and, if travelers have not belied the Russians in respect to their susceptibility to tender sentiments, that curious little shrimp commonly called Cupid must have made several very good hits for a blind shot. As for the supper, it was all that could be desired, and a great deal more than a great many could get – for the fault of the ball was that there were too many persons present. It was too much of a jam. Fully one thousand persons could have been spared, and their absence would have made the ball all the better.
Ivan Vejeegben, an amiable Russian, says that ‘a Petersburg ball would appear to be under the management of a co-operative society, consisting of a French ballet master, a Chinese master of the ceremonies, a German knight of a rueful countenance, and an Italian scene maker. Everything in its place, enough of everything, but, more than all, ennui. In Moscow, on the contrary, they sometimes dance out of tact; sometimes the musicians go out of tune; sometimes there are tallow candles among the waxlights; sometimes the floor creaks in the drawingroom; after a hearty supper there is sometimes too much champagne taken; sometimes there is more noise at a ball than at a market. However, the merriment arises not from custom, but from an overflow of the heart; people go expressly to dance and make merry.’ We are familiar with the fantastic extravagances of St. Petersburg; with the Empress Elizabeth’s polyglot ball in the ice palace, and with Prince Potemkin’s feast on the Princess Dolgorocki’s birthday, where crystal cups, filled with diamonds, were brought on at dessert and served to the ladies by the spoonful. Therefore we can hardly expect that the Russian should be surprised by any extent of mere extravagance in gaiety; but if any comparisons should be drawn it may very well be found that, without formality and ennui, we can go to any extreme with a Petersburg ball to the ‘high fantastical,’ and join with it, moreover, that spontaneous outflow of exuberant spirits, and certainly the crowd and noise, supposed to be characteristic of the ball at Moscow.
The general orders for last night were as follows…
Punctually, in accordance with the programme, the doors on Irving place were thrown open at nine, and countless dainty damsels, who had looked forward to the night with certain doubts whether or no it would ever come, realized that the great ball had begun to be a fact. Inside the door a pleasant change in the Academy was perceptible at the very first step. Instead of the ordinary barrenness of the vestibule, it had the comfortable cosiness of furniture about it; and instead of the usual bare floor the foot fell softly on a carpet; and as you turned to the right, delivered your ticket and passed up stairs, a heavy cloth of the rich Magenta color softened your footfall at every step of the way, and when you landed in the upper lobby it was there also, giving, in the brilliant light, a warm, rich glow to the whole place...
At ten o’clock the music began, and the promenaders [sic] took the floor. Already, though the guests, par excellence of the occasion, were not present, there was a heavy display of gold lace…
Immediately after the Russians arrived the dance began. We call it a dance out of respect to conventional and popular prejudice. We call it a dance out of respect to conventional and proper prejudice. In truth it was a very wonderful and indescribable phantasmagoria of humanity. The frantic few struggling against the determined and desperate many. Had one chanced to know several persons present, it is remotely possible that he might have been able to pick them out, but in the absence of any such particular and personal knowledge, it was mere nonsense to suppose that there was any particular person there. It was mere mass and mere matter. As for a dance it was a mere sway of crude material, moved a little this way, a little that, but not a dance.
Alas! for the Russians. It is known, or should be, that these Slavic heroes are not the very largest of the human race – that they are small men in fact – and what is to become of small men in such a jam? Early in the night – indeed, very soon after the dance began – we saw several of them in the embrace of grand nebulous masses of muslin and crinoline, whiled hither and thither as if in terrible torrible [sic] torment – their eyes aglare – their hair blown out – and all their persons expressive of the most desperate energy, doubtless in the endeavor to escape. What became of them we cannot tell.
We have spoken above of the state of matters in the ball room at eleven o’clock, and we have endeavored to put in the plainest terms the great error of the occasion – which was that too many tickets, by at least one thousand, had been sold. Not only was there no room to dance, but it was impossible even to stand with comfort anywhere. And all this, sufficiently and disagreeably apparent in the ball, became very much more so when the question of supper was on the tapis.
Admiral Lisovski is a gentleman of pleasanter mien and style than the photograph by Brady would suggest – though the photograph is, nevertheless, an excellent likeness. Rather below the medium height, compact figure, a slight stoop in the shoulders, strongly marked features that harmonize well with a nose not at all Tartaric; square forehead, heavy brows; face clean shaven to the mustache, and a mustache that covers the mouth and conceals its strong jaw; a bold crown, and short, crisp, grayish hair at the sides and back of the head; small brown eyes, and minus the majority of his front teeth. Such is the Admiral.
The order of the dancing was as follows…
The Supper Room.
A covered passage, which had been erected in a few hours, led from the Academy of Music to Irving Hall, where Delmonico had prepared the supper…Above the laughter of the guests and the loud popping of the Widow Clicquot champagne were heard the strains of music, the odor of flowers and of the pates also mingled; and we must assert that if the Academy, with its waltzes, its quadrilles and polkas, attracted the guests, Irving Hall, with its splendid table and rich wines, was no less patronized…
The outside, with incidents.
Although the hour for the opening of the doors of the Academy was fixed by the committee at nine o’clock, long before that hour – say half-past seven – the curious multitude began to make their appearance, and to throng the sidewalks leading to the principal avenues of ingress…
What the crowd said.
At half past seven or a quarter to eight o’clock the crowd of spectators became so dense that the police had to interfere to clear the sidewalks and to keep the passage ways open…
The First Carriage Arrived.
It came down, according to directions, by Irving place, and, wheeling around Mike Murphy’s establishment, hard by the passage way leading from the Academy to the supper room, in Irving Hall, took position in front of the Irving place entrance to the Academy – only an hour too soon…
How the ball gentry and gentlewomen withstood the observations of the crowd.
Among the first arrivals were the members of the Committee of Arrangements and their ladies, the latter attired with the most exquisite taste…
Grumbling about the doors not being opened.
About this time, getting on towards nine o’clock, complaints were heard about the doors not being opened, but they must have been uttered by persons who do not carefully read the Herald; for the hour for the opening had been repeatedly mentioned in the column of this journal, and if any inconvenience resulted from a want of knowledge in that respect it should be charged to a lack of intelligent enterprise and scrutiny on the part of those interested.
The signal for opening the doors.
At nine o’clock – and the committee deserve especial credit for their precision in carrying out the program as far as time is concerned – a brilliant calcium light was cast from the balcony of the Fourteenth street front, and as its rays were shed upon the assemblage upon the street, far up towards Fourth avenue, and down towards Third avenue, and again into Irving place, a beautiful and gay picture was presented…
The tide of carriages
now fairly commenced its flow…No more invidious remarks were heard, and the multitude gradually subsided into an expressive silence of wonder and satisfaction, until
some rowdies unloosed a horse.
When the crowd was at its height, and the carriages were gathering fast, some unmitigated rowdies unloosed a horse attached to a vehicle on which was placed a calcium light – a light which was intended to be exhibited at the head of Irving Hall and opposite the circus simultaneously with the opening of the doors…
Another calcium light, and another.
Immediately succeeding this event a calcium light appeared on the vehicle from which the horse had been so summarily detached, and following it was another from the Irving place balcony, each of these brilliant luminaries being almost as bright as the sun at noonday…
The special invited guests as they approached.
The Russian officers, the guests par excellence of the evening, were driven up in carriages…
A rush at the fourteenth street entrance again.
Shortly after ten o’clock especial guests entered the Academy, the foreign ambassadors and consuls arrived, and some of them were mistaken by the crowd, especially the women, for the Muscovite visitors…
How much did it all cost:? Not that anybody cares, of course. We wanted to treat, and we have done it, and would have done it if it had had to cost twenty two and a quarter times as much as it did. Yet it is an American characteristic to want to see the figures; so we give an estimate…
It is to be expected that the jewelry and most of the dresses will of course be good for any other minor occasion; but this ball, which caused most of the original outlay, is the grand golden offering of the metropolitans to the Russians – the unstinted hospitality of New York to a friendly foreign power.”
Includes description of the dinner and some of the invited guests. “The committee of citizens under whose management the grand Ball was given in honor of the Russian officers last night are entitled to credit for the general excellence of the entertainment provided; but they would have added to the pleasure of the event had they restricted the number of persons admitted to the Academy. There were at least one thousand too many in the building, and the inevitable crush, which occurred upon the dancing floor was alike destructive to tender fabrics, good temper and enjoyment.
The decorations of the Academy were tasteful, and the covered way leading across Irving Place to the supper-room in Irving Hall was neatly finished, well lighted and carpeted. Russian and American emblems, intertwined, adorned the walls of the Academy. Vases of flowers bordered the dancing floor and marked the passages for exit. A fine marble bust of Washington, overarched by flaming jets of gas, was the central ornament of the vestibule, and statues, lent for the occasion by their owners, added to the general effect. The doors opened at 9 o’clock, the music began at 10, the Russian Admiral and his officers arrived at 11, and at 12 the supper room was thronged with sharp-set people who did full justice to the ample store provided by Delmonico. A snug little tea-room in the Academy remained open during the night, and the temperate refreshments of coffee and tea were ready at the call of the thirsty.
The unusual warmth of the November evening aggravated the discomfort caused by the overcrowded state of the house. When Helmsmuller’s excellent orchestra struck up the music for the dance, frantic efforts were made to clear a sufficient space for the dancers, but such was the pressure of the swaying and heaving crowd that it was nearly impossible to place the sets in position, and when the task had finally been accomplished the amusement became hard labor. There was imminent danger of irreparable injury to elaborate toilettes and peril to ribs; but for all this the dance went on in a crowded fashion, and the heat intensified itself till dancers gave up in despair and fled to the lobbies and the boxes in search of air.
The boxes of the Academy were filled during the evening by a select and observant company, but a small part of whom descended to the dancing floor. Many familiar countenances, formerly visible on the floor on occasions like this, preserved their distance from the seething and glittering mass below, content to look on and enjoy the spectacle without the trouble of participating in the whirl of the waltz or the graceful movement of the Lancers. Below, all was a blaze of diamonds, silks and fashion; above, it was a quiet, elegant, reserved family party; and each set seemed to enjoy the evening’s entertainments in its own way.
The Floor Committee were assiduous in their attentions to the guests of the evening. Admiral Lissoffski and over a hundred of the officers of his squadron were waited upon with great courtesy, and partners were provided for those who wished to join in the dance. The Admiral was naturally the centre of attraction; little groups of people revolving about him wherever he happened to be. He evidently appreciated the compliments paid to his country through these tokens of personal respect, while the younger officers of his suite gazed with undisguised admiration at the elegant decorations of the house, and the equally elaborate adornments of the partners with whose hands they were honored. The evening was far spent when the officers of the fleet arrived, but they retrieved the lost time by entering with avidity into the spirit of the dance during the remained of the night.
The scene in the supper-room was very pleasant. The covered way leading from the Irving Place entrance of the Academy to Irving Hall, on the opposite side of the street, fused the Opera House and the concert room into one, so that it was difficult to see where one ended and the other began. The seats in Irving Hall having all been removed, tables were placed on three sides, near the walls, leaving a large hollow square, in which the company formed in battalions for a charge upon Delmonico’s waiters…The event, however, was satisfactory to those who looked on, whatever it may have been to the unhappy persons whose brilliant display of dress and jewelry was hidden in the throng.”
Includes a lengthy description of the decorations and the spectators who arrived outside of the theater to watch guests arrive. “The long-expected event of the season, the grand fête given by the citizens of New-York to Rear-Admiral Lisovsky and his fellow-officers, came off last night at the Academy of Music with unrivaled splendor. The very full and detailed account of the preparations for this superb festival, published by us in the Times of yesterday morning, was more than realized in the execution.
The adornments of the interior of the Academy were brilliant in the extreme. At the private entrance on Fourteenth-street, the Russian officers and other invited guests were received in an apartment separated from the street and from the corridors of the edifice, and elegantly draped with American and Russian colors.
To one side of this apartment was the cloak-room for the guests, comfortably and conveniently arranged so as to avoid all delay and confusion. Overhead, on a canopy of richly-colored silk and muslin, was the Imperial Russian eagle, and the entrance to the corridor was hung with rich lace curtains, as were the windows on all sides. The corridors were richly and newly carpeted in crimson, and hung with lithographic portraits of the members of the Royal Russian family, procured by the manager at great expense and with no little trouble. These were interspersed with scenes of Russian life in the city and the field. Turning to the left and approaching the neighborhood of the entrance on Irving-place the visitors descried still more varied and beautiful adornments, chief among which were the superb photographs which for some weeks past had been in preparation by the celebrated Brady. These comprised a magnificent piece representing Admiral Lisovsky alone, another showing him surrounded by the Captains of his fleet; others of…and a fine oil painting of Gen. Meade, from Washington City. Flanking this were the photographs of Burnside, Kearny and Franklin. At the main entrance from the corridor to the dancing-floor was a bust of Washington, beautifully placed upon its pedestal of marble, with a bow of gas-jets so arranged that they threw a halo over the sculptured brow of the patriot. Looking through the draperies of the entrance this, with its background of crimson seemed flanked by the imperial-sized photographs of Admiral Lisovsky on the one side, and the Czar on the other, producing a most admirable effect. Elsewhere throughout the corridor were pictures of Peter the Great, the Czar Nicholas, the Grand Duke Constantine, &c. The main corridor was also lined with bronze and plaster statues representing fauns and graces. Within the circle of the house, usually occupied by the audience that throng the Academy, commencing with the ceiling and ending with the floor, the utmost that taste could do was done. The amphitheatre was ‘massed in’ with painted hanging, representing wreaths of flowers. On the second tier baskets of rare exotics, exquisitely arranged, hung between the chandeliers; on the lowermost, these baskets were larger and more profuse; and on the floor flanking the five entrance ways were large marble vases on pedestals of crimson also filled with the richest groups of the choice products of the hothouse. The quiet and yet grand effect of all these decorations was completed by the appearance of the stage thrown, as it were, into a vast space beneath a huge marquee, or tent, of white, blue and gold, with an Italian lake scene at the background, and a grand device representing the genius of America welcoming Russia, with the Imperial crown above her head and the colors of the two nations intertwined surrounding her.
The ladies foyer, or fireside of the Opera, also superbly refitted, the coffee-room on the first floor with coffee, tea, chocolate and confectionary, ad libitum, were other delightful and agreeable features; and the cloak-room, with its boudoirs and conveniences for the toilette, were like nearly all else, novelties in taste and arrangement.
The Covered Gallery
to Irving Hall we elsewhere twice described…
With all this fairy world around them, it is not to be wondered at that the delight of the thronging guests exceeded their own wildest anticipations.
We would expatiate upon the ten thousand prismatic changings of groupings, effect and color of this magic spectacle did our space permit. But tempting as the theme may be, we are here compelled to close our narrative. To the Managers, and especially to Daniel Kingspand, Esq., Chairman of the Decorating Committee, who has devoted untiring energy to his arduous labors; to Messrs. Moss and Harrison, and to the admirable officers of the Police on duty inside and outside of the Academy and the Hall, the highest credit and the thanks of our community are due.
The Russian guests were astonished and delighted, and when told that the whole arrangement was completed after the close of the opera at midnight on Wednesday, exclaimed, ‘None but Americans could accomplish such a feat!’
‘No sleep till morn when youth and pleasure meet,
To chase the glowing hours with flying feet.’
Byron’s stirring description of the ball at Brussels, that preceded Waterloo, applied here perfectly and it was dawn ere the feet of the dancers lagged and the echoes of the Muscovite laughter ceased to mingle with the prattle of American beauty within the walls of the Academy. But even the Russian ball must end.
The uninvited guests who attended the great Russian ball in the streets outside the Academy of Music, were more numerous than those inside, and they arrived much earlier on the ground. Their curiosity was evidently much larger than their wardrobe, and as they came to see and not be seen, they saved much time in the arrangement of their toilet…They were of all ages and of both sexes, and represented every class of metropolitans, from the staid, well-dressed, and well-behaved citizens, to the ‘friends’ of Gov. Seymour and the constituents of Judge McCunn…The Drummond lights from the balconies of the Academy cast a dazzling brilliancy over the scene and enabled the guests of the side-walk to get a good view of the guests of the ball-room, and to inspect them in detail as they alighted from their coaches. This they did with the utmost diligence and with perfect freedom of commentary – sometimes flattering, sometimes otherwise. When the last carriage had wheeled into line, and the last female form had vanished through the portals of the theatre, the outside guests, knowing that their part of the fun was over, and feeling conscious that they had done all that was required of them, quietly retired to their homes.”
CHRONIQUE DE NEW-YORK
“There is, in acute illnesses, a culminating point that almost always decides the turn that they are going to take. The Russian fever attained that paroxysm last Thursday night into Friday. The onset was violent; but one can hope that it’s the last one and that we’re moving on to a decreasing phase. Since then, the delirium has perceptibly diminished; some reasonable words have even seen daylight through the last ramblings of the delirium and a general cooling-down has arrived to temper the devouring heat that embraced the New York population to a man.
I’ve always reckoned that the weather could easily be the reason for this spasmodic attack, which was only, after all, a new form of a chronic inclination on the part of the American people. My long acquaintance of the illness and the frequent returns of the sickness that I’ve witnessed have taught me to not get alarmed by these abrupt overexcitements, which have no staying power and which last, in general, such a short time compared to the apparent intensity with which they blaze forth. The Russian fever has followed exactly the same course as the Kossuth fever, the Japanese fever and the Galles fever. It was a kind of normal pace that could have been tracked in advance through the preceding ones; didn’t leave any more of a trace than they left; perhaps the only memory of it that will remain will be more painful.
The awakening of reason had for its signal this same ball where it appeared on the contrary that the delirium should attain its zenith. Different causes, big and small, conspired to lead to the onset of this reaction. The first and principal one is in the imperious need for change that has passed for a long time for being the lot of the French nation, but for which the American spirit incontestably deserves the trophy. No part of the Tarpeian Rock is as close to the Capitol as in the United States; no part of the idol of the evening is treated the next day with a more supreme indifference. They had taken advantage of Russia for six weeks, during which Russia didn’t become tiresome. Then, it’s just the moment when satiety was coming on by itself that they chose to double the dose. The clumsy friends never do anything else. Wiser and less blind by means of their personal infatuation, the Russophiles should have realized that it was time to stop themselves. They should have been able to see further that showy balls almost invariably bring about, the decline of public enthusiasm and rarely turn in favor of those who are their heros. These festivities, inevitably exclusive no matter how large the spaces in which they’re given, provoke all sorts of petty vexations, which try to hide themselves under a disdainful demeanor. Then come the resentments of feminine vanities which didn’t find at the party the triumphs they’ve dreamed about. The men themselves, if only they encountered boredom in place of pleasure—and it’s often the case—carry off an impression of weariness where their feelings submit to an influence unknown to themselves. Finally, intimate admiration and direct contact isn’t always favorable to the objects of public adoration. It’s even rare enough that the illusion doesn’t suffer more or less. Distance has a favorable subdued lighting in which the protective mezzotints contribute in large part to the illusion. It’s not only for magic tricks that there’s a place to say: From far away it’s something and from close up it’s nothing.
Gottschalk told a story one day that, in a small Western village, he saw the moment when his disappointed audience went to ask for their money back, under the pretext that that they hadn’t been given enough extraordinary things for the price of the ticket. ‘It was clear to me—said the witty artist—that these gallant folks had paid their dollar with the idea that I wouldn’t play the piano the way everyone else does. I don’t know exactly what they were expecting; perhaps they figured that from the moment they paid to see me, I had to make music with my elbows or the heels of my boots. It’s always like that when seeing me simply put my hands on the piano like the first time their daughters did it, there was a feeling of general disappointment.’ Something analogous was produced at the ball at the Academy of Music. More than one ardent admirer of the Russians from a distance murmured when seeing them up close: ‘What? It’s only this!’ It must not take more to broach an even more solid and rational popularity than the one they have business with here.
Russophilism, moreover, couldn’t have had a more magnificent funeral than the one the organizers of Thursday’s party contrived for it without wanting to. All the descriptions they published wouldn’t have given a real idea of this splendid night. Even less could those who went the next morning to look at the scraps of ornamentation left in place picture to themselves what the Academy of Music was like the night before. The hall and the stage, restored to their respective intentions, are a completely different thing than the immense level parquet floor that they were made into the days of the ball, and on which the cut-glass chandeliers descending from the arch poured out streams of light—not to mention the tent with wide undulations that draped and framed the center while concealing the wings. But what was above all completely charming and new, which it’s lamentable that they couldn’t let it survive at least a few days, was the gallery that provided communication between the theater and Irving Hall. At the moment when one passed in front of the flight of steps of the last room, the view was truly striking and worthy of the most splendid European festivals. The dry façade that you were familiar with found itself transformed into a portico of flowers and foliage, which vaguely evoked the image of a temple dedicated to Spring. M. Harrison, the director of Irving Hall, had already proved that he was a man of taste; but this time he showed a superiority that designates him as the future organizer appointed for solemn occasions of this genre. Nobody in New York has ever demonstrated, to the same degree, the feeling of simplicity within luxury and the instinct for effects to which one can arrive by means that are most elementary, by the harmony of the most sober colors. M. Maximilien, who had assisted in this improvisation, also deserves that they repeat his name, and I do this all the more willingly because it’s a matter of a French name.
In spite of the efforts deployed by the committee and the success that has crowned them almost entirely, the Russian ball has stirred up plenty of keen criticism. I’d very much like to know what human thing has never escaped the tongues of the ones who look for faults. About these criticisms, the only ones that are founded are those that fall on the public itself. You must agree that the crowd wasn’t exclusively composed of the crème de la crème, and that diamonds sparkled more brightly than good breeding. They rushed toward the supper and fell on the soup with a complete obliviousness toward reserve, which made one think involuntarily of the spectacle of a pack of hounds throwing itself on the quarry. Not one lady was able to approach the tables, usurped from their dwelling by implacable eaters whom only the force of bayonets would have succeeded in making move on. There had to be prodigies of strength on the part of M. Delmonico’s personnel, in order that the most beautiful part of the population of the ball wouldn’t die of thirst and starvation. In the morning drunkenness broke out, and only God (and the dressmakers) will be able to know how many flounces were torn, how many skirts ripped by boots staggering between so many wines. – This isn’t all, if you will, most edifying; but I scarcely know of a public ball that doesn’t have its episodes of this type, and when one has seen the drunken caresses of a grand Japanese orgy, one is carried off with indulgence for these relatively harmless deviations.
This party, moreover, assumed a very picturesque and interesting side as a study, for the very composition of the public that were crowded together there. It was the first occasion furnished to observers, to analyze the transformation the war has brought to the elements that compose I wouldn’t say the high society, but the opulent society of New York. You could still find here and there the groups that had come to constitute, in the Imperial City, a veritable aristocracy of education and good manners; but it was almost the state of exception. Whether by deliberate design, or by a great quantity of things, they had ceded the highest floor to those enriched through supplying the war effort and to the upstarts in epaulettes. A mordant quip reproduced the next day by many newspapers, qualified this soiree as the “Triumph of the Shoddy.” (1)