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[-1-] THE GREAT METROPOLIS.
* It may be right to mention, that for much of the information contained in this chapter, I am indebted to one who has been many years a member.
Interest it creates — Its origin — Constitution—The Season—Admission into—Anxiety to be admitted— Its influence on the fashionable world—Splendour of its balls—Its dances—Unhappiness of ladies in it—The injury it inflicts on many families—Difficulty of breaking up the monopoly.
ALMACK’S! What a sound! With what powerful emotions does many a fair bosom
beat at the mere mention of it! It is the subject of the nocturnal visions of
thousands of both sexes in the fashionable world: it is the subject also of [-2-] their day dreams. It is the everlasting topic of conversation in the
aristocratic circles. You hear it repeated a thousand times perhaps a day.
"Are you a subscriber to Almack’s this season ?" "Have you
applied for admission to Almack’s ?" "What a dashing ball that was
at Almack’s on Wednesday !" "I did not see you at Almack’s last
night !" "Have you heard that the Mortons have applied for admission
to Almack’s and been rejected ?" "I’m sure those vulgar low-bred
creatures the Cottons have not the least chance of being admitted: it was a
piece of great assurance on their part to suppose the ladies-patronesses could
listen for a moment to an application from such a quarter." "O, I
never saw the Marchioness of Londonderry look so well as she did at the last
Almack’s; she was so splendidly dressed." "That brute Lord
Landonvale was quite tipsy at Almack’s last night: I was sorry to see mamma
give him the slightest countenance." These, and a hundred other
expressions, are quite current in the higher circles on the subject of Almack’s.
Beyond [-3-] those, however, who are members, scarcely any one has any idea of what
Almack’s really is; and even by such as are subscribers, comparatively little,
with few exceptions, is known of it.
When, or under what particular circumstances, Almack’s was originally instituted, is not exactly known. It is first accidentally noticed by Horace Walpole, who says, "There is a new institution which begins to make, and if it proceeds, will make, a considerable noise. It is a club of both sexes, to be erected at Almack’s on the mode of that of the men of White’s. Mrs. Fitzroy, Lady Pembroke, Mrs. Leynell, and Miss Lloyd, are the patronesses." I have not been able to ascertain the precise time at which this was written; otherwise it were easy to find out the year in which Almack’s was instituted. It may, however, be said in general terms to have been about a century ago. The institution took its name, just as our modern clubs do, from that of the proprietor of the rooms in which the meetings were held. The same title is still retained, as in the case of White’s and Brookes’s, though Almack [-4-] has slept with his fathers for considerably more than half a century. The present proprietor of the rooms in which the balls take place, is Mr. Willis, to whom I shall have occasion to refer two or three times in the course of the chapter.
Soon after the institution of Almack’s, it was for some years discontinued, owing to some misunderstanding among the ladies-patronesses. It was re-organised on such an extensive scale, and under such powerful patronage, that it assumed a sway and importance in the fashionable world which its foundresses never contemplated. That influence on the bon ton it still continues to exercise. And a more despotic power never existed. All that we read about political slavery in other countries, is not to be compared to this. The fashionable world are bound hand and foot to the half dozen fair tyrants in Kingstreet, St. James’s. The conclave who sit there around a table covered with red cloth, every Monday during the season, have the power, by their single fiat, of making or unmaking entire families. They can open or shut the doors [-5-] of fashionable life on them, by the mere circumstance of giving or withholding a ticket to Almack’s. The proudest and most aristocratic family in the land are fain to bow down, and with cap in hand, to use a homely but expressive phrase, supplicate " a subscription" from this "coalition cabal." To be a member of Almack’s is a sure passport to the very first society: it is to give either a lady or gentleman the highest status in the world of fashion to which human beings can attain. To be refused admission to Almack’s—I mean that sort of refusal which is well known to be tantamount to a perpetual exclusion—is to blast one’s prospects, in so far as aristocratic society is concerned, for life. What renders the absolute power of the committee of Almack’s the more terrible to the lords and ladies of the land is, that it is often exercised in the most capricious manner. If either of the ladies-patronesses have any personal dislikes to gratify—and I need not say the probability is, that all of them have many—they have it in their power to get their "little sweet re-[-6-]venge" when sitting in full divan around the "board of red cloth." They unhesitatingly refuse to admit the applicant; and they are not called upon to assign any reason for pronouncing a fiat of exclusion. The thing is done at once: there is no appeal. It is in vain that the parties boast, perhaps, of belonging to one of the most ancient and noblest families in Great Britain: in the fashionable world, if excluded from Almack’s, that will not avail them. How the unlimited power which the committee at Almack’s possess, is exercised, will appear from some of the statements which I am about to make.
The committee consists of six ladies-patronesses. Formerly there were seven; but since the Princess Lieven, the celebrated Russian politician and beauty, quitted this country, the number has been only six. They are the Countess of Jersey, the Marchioness of Londonderry, Lady Cowper, the Countess of Brownlow, Lady Willoughby D’Eresby, and the Countess of Euston.
These ladies-patronesses are self-elected. [-7-] Whenever one of them dies or resigns, the others meet together, and after a great deal of canvassing of the merits of the various parties proposed by each other, the lady for whom there is the greatest number of votes is chosen. When the office of lady-patroness is vacant, innumerable intrigues—many of them such as, one would think, no lady, far less a lady of the highest class, would on any consideration be a party to —are set on foot to carry the private ends of some of the ladies-patronesses. The Countess of Jersey may have some friend she wishes, for particular reasons, to be appointed to fill the vacant office. Lady Cowper has another. Then comes the din of war. Each of the other three ladies-patronesses may possibly have some "dear friend" in her eye whom she would like to see around the "board of red cloth ;" but usually one or two lord it—perhaps in this case I should rather say, "lady" it—over the rest. And whenever it is seen that those possessing the most sway, either from imperiousness of manner or some peculiar persuasiveness when pressing [-8-] their point, are determined to insist on the parties they propose, the more good-natured and less decided of the number forbear to urge their suit, and join with either of the two great belligerents. A well and obstinately contested point of this kind by these arbitresses of fashion and influence in aristocratic society, is one of the richest scenes which could possibly occur. Not long since there was" a contested election" of this kind in Willis’s Rooms, when the "ruling passion," and every other passion, of the two ladies-patronesses who opposed each other on the occasion, were shown off, as a sportsman would say, in excellent style. The conventional rules of aristocratic society were all set at defiance: the usual courtesies of life were disregarded, and the two patronesses made use of terms to each other’s faces which they had often employed behind each other’s backs. Each, in plain English, lost her temper, and vented her spleen in terms which one does not expect to hear escape " fair ladies"’ lips. Of the two, Lady Dominant, who had usually got things her [-9-] own way before, worked herself into the greatest paroxysm of passion. She coloured deeply; one would have thought all the blood in her body had risen to her face. Had she been single, and a host of lovers been at the moment at her feet, the terrific frown which clouded her brow would have scattered them instanter in all directions; and not one of them would ever afterwards have penned a sonnet to her "beautiful eyes," her "lovely lips," or to any other real or imaginary attraction. The tones of her voice, too, as well as the words themselves, bespoke the violence of the storm which raged in her bosom. What a pity that under so fair and fascinating an exterior, there could be so much of fierce and furious passion. The Baroness Positive was somewhat more measured in her indignation; she did not, at any rate, lose the command of her temper so entirely. The language she made use of in attack or defence, just as the case happened, was not so unmeasured as that employed by her opponent; but there was, if possible, more of deep-rooted ill-nature in it, [-10-] and it must have left a much deeper sting than the plain-spoken words of Lady Dominant. The truth in this ease was, as it would be found in many other cases not altogether dissimilar—the truth was, that the belligerents had long been rivals for supreme dominion in Almack’s, and in this instance they contested the point with such violence and pertinacity, not because they cared anything for the party whose cause they espoused, abstractedly considered, but because the principle involved was their own relative power at the board. Hitherto Lady Dominant had, as before-mentioned, carried things, in most cases, whatever way she liked. This the - Baroness thought ought not to be suffered; and with the view of trying what might he done in the way of curtailing her ladyship’s influence, by a bold and pertinacious resistance to her authority, she nominated a friend for the vacant office, in opposition to the protégée brought forward by her rival. The effort, however, was unsuccessful. Lady Dominant succeeded by a majority of one in carrying her point, there being [-11-] three of the other ladies -patronesses in favour of her "dear friend," while only two espoused the cause of the Baroness.
The elections of ladies-patronesses are for life, —only any one is liable to be expelled should a majority decide on the expediency of such a step. This, however, is never done, unless it unfortunately happened that the party had made some egregious false step in morals, which had been "duly brought under the public eye." When one lady-patroness becomes peculiarly obnoxious to one or more of the other ladiespatronesses—no very rare case, by the way— the course adopted for getting rid of the "odious creature," or the " horrid woman," is to annoy her in every possible way. The insults and indignities heaped on one of the divan, by Lady Dominant and one of her creatures, some years ago, exceeded the bounds of credibility, and were the subject of universal remark at the time. The insulted party at last sought refuge from the persecution to which she was subjected, in resignation.
[-12-] The season at Almack’s usually commences in the second week of April, and ends about the middle of July. The committee, alias the six ladies-patronesses, meet every Wednesday between the hours of three and six, at Willis’s Rooms, for the purpose of deciding on all applications for admission, and making the other requisite arrangements for the various balls. Each lady sits down at the round table with her desk before her; while the secretary, rather a good-looking sort of personage, not quite a youth nor yet stooping under the antiquity of existence, sits a little behind. The triangular pieces of paper which Mr. Willis has previously put into a box, containing the various applications for admission, are then taken out, opened, and read. The claims of each candidate are then discussed seriatim.. And such a discussion! Could the poor unhappy parties themselves—no matter which sex has the honour of claiming them— only overhear all that is said of them,—I mean when the committee are not at once unanimous for their admission, —they would then have some [-13-] notion, if they never had any before, of what Shakspeare meant when he makes Hamlet say he will "speak daggers" to his mother. Miss Manchester applied at the beginning of last season for a ticket. " Who is this Miss Manchester ?" inquired Lady Dominant. "Does anybody know anything about her? I never heard the name before."
"Nor I," said the Marchioness of Duffus," Some upstart vulgar creature of city origin, I suppose," she continued, giving her head a most contemptuous toss.
"She is a very respectable young lady; I have seen her two or three times, and she is possessed of an immense fortune," said Baroness Positive.
"Made, I have no doubt, by her father’s spinning-jennies," said Lady Dominant, sneeringly.
"Her father is a manufacturer in the Manchester trade, but he is a most respectable man: my brother and he are on very intimate terms," said the Baroness.
[-14-] "Well, surely the impudence of these low-bred, vulgar people! it exceeds everything," said the Countess of Speyside. " Why, after this, it would not surprise me to see every coal-merchant’s daughter in the city applying for admission.
"O! the very idea of the thing is monstrous," observed Lady Rafford. "Besides, the creature’s a perfect fright. You know, my dear Baroness, you pointed her out to tee one day in the Strand."
"Quite a turnip face, I dare say," said Lady Dominant.
"And cats’s-eyes, I’ll answer for it," observed the Marchioness.
"You are both right," said Lady Rafford.
"And you might have added carroty-hair. The very thought of such a horrid-looking creature, and a cotton-merchant’s daughter, waltzing at Almack’s, almost throws me into hysterics."
"I think you are unreasonably severe," observed the Baroness. "She is heiress to a princely fortune. Her father is worth half-a-million, [-15-] and her hand would therefore be deemed a prize by any nobleman in the land. My brother, Colonel Vincent, has begged of me as a particular favour, to do all I can to get her admitted, and I therefore hope your ladyships will give her a voucher."
"Yes," said Lady Dominant, bridling up, yes, if we wish to disgrace ourselves and the order to which we belong. If we did, I dare say," - she continued, biting her lip and tossing her head, "I dare say the piece of vulgarity would come to our balls dressed in some of her father’s cotton-cloth. Better admit our housemaids at once."
"I’ll engage," said Lady Rafford, assuming an air of unwonted self-importance, "I’ll engage this would-be-fashionable Miss Vulgarity could not acquit herself, though she were here, so well as one of my waiting-maids."
"O !" said Lady Dominant tartly, and with some haste, "0 let us be done with this poor - empty-headed but aspiring cotton-spinning [-16-] Miss; the very idea of listening for one moment to her application is perfectly monstrous."
Miss Manchester was of course refused a ticket, there being no one but the Baroness to support her claim. Neither would she but for the circumstance that her brother, who has since married Miss Manchester, had so urgently pressed her to do so.
But it is where there is a personal ill-will on the part of some of the ladies-patronesses towards the party applying, that these ladies give the best proof of what they can do in the way of mangling one’s character and wounding one’s feelings at the same time.
Gentlemen have to apply in the same way as ladies for their tickets of admission. And their several characters are often subjected to a severe ordeal. In cases, however, where the candidate belongs to a family of great distinction, and above all, if he have a high title, and be an elder son," great allowances are generally made for him. The Countess of Guernsey says, [-17-] and no one can question its truth, that if the ladies-patronesses were to be too strict on the question of morals, there would be no gentlemen at all at Almack’s; the ladies would have the balls to themselves, and would require to make partners of each other, the best way they could. In the case of the " detrimentals," viz. younger brothers, however, the same allowances are not made. Their being roués, is often a very convenient pretext for their exclusion. The observation of a lady-patroness, in a younger brother’s case, when it is wished to refuse him admission is, that "No man’s daughter would be safe in his company; none of us could admit him into our houses." The most. dissolute "elder brother," however, in England, provided he has a good title, and either has, or is heir to, a good estate, finds ready admission, when there are no personal feelings in the matter, both into Almack’s, and into their houses. In either case he encounters nothing but smiling faces both on the part of the mothers and daughters.
[-18-] Sometimes, when the ladies-patronesses are not very decided either in acceding to or rejecting an application, they agree to give a ticket to the party for one night, or three tickets for a set, as they are called, of the balls. In those cases where the candidate is deemed particularly eligible, either from rank, beauty, friends, or any other cause, the ticket is granted for the season, and is called a subscription. The price of each ticket is seven-shillings-and-sixpence. About twenty years ago it was a guinea; but a supper was then provided, and no additional charge made. Now there is no supper; there is nothing in the shape of refreshments but tea and lemonade, and the worst of it is, that both articles are so miserably bad that it requires an effort to drink either. The lemonade is sour as vinegar; while to apply the word tea to the stuff called by that name at Almack’s, were one of the most unwarrantable perversions of language ever perpetrated. Give it to any person without calling it by any name, and that person will [-19-] soon find one for himself. He will at once call it chalk and water.
When the six goddesses of fashion and manners are seated at the table to decide on the claims of the various applicants, they have three baskets beside them. The first and largest basket contains the triangular billets in which the applications are made. The second basket contains the names of the parties whose claims are admitted; and in the third are the names of those who are doomed to exclusion. It sometimes happens, however, that this exclusion may not be intended to be perpetual. There may not be any very strong objection to the parties; but the list of members may chance to be pretty full at the time, and the claims, in the meantime, of other persons are considered superior to theirs. Those, on the other hand, as in the case of Miss Manchester, or some "detrimental," who in consequence of his elder brother being married and having a family, has no earthly chance of ever being aught but a" detrimental, "—in such cases, where the doom is in-[-20-]tended to be everlasting, the names of the parties are entered in a book kept by the ladiespatronesses for the purpose, which saves all future trouble should the parties ever apply again. Their names being found in this black-book settles the question of their admissibility at once.
When parties are refused a ticket, the painful intimation is conveyed to them in a printed circular, with a blank left to be filled up with the unfortunate name. The intimation is laconic enough. It assigns no reason for the refusal. It is to this effect —" The ladies-patronesses’ compliments to Mr. or Miss So-and- so, and are sorry they cannot comply with his or her request." This is not sent to the residence of the parties by the two-penny post, or by any of Willis’s servants. All intimations of rejection are left with Willis, and the parties only learn the result by calling on him for the " answer," as it is termed. These answers, like the applications, are all contained in three-cornered notes.
[-21-] When the claims of a candidate are admitted, the ticket, or voucher, as it is called, signed by one of the ladies-patronesses, is left for him with Willis. Every one on going to the balls must present his ticket: it is not enough that Willis or any other person knows quite well that he has been admitted.
It is impossible to conceive the interest shown by the candidates and their immediate friends as to the fate of their applications. Instead of waiting to learn in the usual way, they often have Lord This, or Colonel That, whom they know to be acquainted with one or other of the ladies-patronesses, waiting on horseback at the corner of King Street, to ascertain from her lips the result. If the party be admitted, the other flies to his residence with the rapidity of lightning to announce the joyful news. If not admitted, you may read the fact from the appearance of the horse. No perspiration is dropping from the animal: there is no foam about his teeth: he at least is a gainer by the rejection of the friend of his master: no spurs have been [-22-] darted into his sides on his way to the residence of the unsuccessful candidate.
No one not acquainted with the fact from observation, or from the communications of persons who are so, could have any idea of the influence put in requisition to gain admittance into Almack’s. It is a fact which may startle some when they hear it stated, but it is a fact, as the aristocracy will all bear testimony, that many families evince as great anxiety, and make as great exertions, to get their daughters into Almack’s, as they do to get their sons into parliament. And the disappointment, when they do not succeed, is often greater in the former than it is in the latter case. In the one case it is only looked on as a question of the preponderance of family influence in a particular part of the country, and the comparative popularity of a certain class of principles; in the other, it is regarded as the lowering of the unsuccessful party in the scale of social importance: a putting, as it were, an extinguisher on one’s pretensions to move in a certain sphere of life. A young lady, before [-23-] she receives a subscription to Alrnack’s, and after she has had that distinction conferred on her, can scarcely be regarded as the same person. She may, after dancing at Almack’s, aspire to move in a circle of society, of which she could not have dreamt before. She has now the chance of receiving proposals for her hand in marriage, from parties who would not before have deemed her on a level with themselves. It is the same with the male sex. The gentleman who is admitted to Almacks, though only moving in a comparatively humble sphere of life before, may now hold up his head in the best society to be met with in the country; and he may, without incurring the risk of being considered presumptuous, solicit the hand of any lady in the kingdom.
But independently of the opportunities which admission into Almack’s affords of getting into the very highest order of society afterwards, such admission is a matter of great importance both to unmarried ladies and unmarried gentlemen, from their being there brought into con-[-24-]tact. One great object which the ladiespatronesses have in view, and of which they never lose sight in their admission of candidates, is to bring about matches between the sexes. And this object is accomplished to an extent to which none but the members have any idea. There the youthful aristocracy of both sexes meet, week after week, during the whole of the season: there the young nobleman sees around him all the beauty of the order to which he belongs. The probability is, that he fixes his affections on some particular lady. They dance together, and then retire to the tea- room, which is at the furthest end of the ballroom, where, sitting down on one of the sofas, he whispers into her ear a declaration of love. She blushes; he reads—for all lovers are skilful physiognomists, whatever other people may be —he reads in her flurried countenance that she is propitious. Taking courage from such favourable appearances, he proceeds, if hurried on by the impulses of his ardent affection, to the next step, which is to propose; or, if not so very [-25-] violently in love as to be unable to restrain himself from making a point-blank proposal at once, he defers it till they meet again at Almack’s next week; and then the business may be said to be done. The remaining arrangements follow as a matter of course. In the aristocratic world little time is spent in courtship, compared with that which is usually consumed in paying and receiving addresses among the middle and lower classes.
In the tea-room many elopements have been planned, as well as proposals of marriage made. It was in that small room that an elopement which excited so much interest in the fashionable world, a few years ago, was agreed on. The rich heiress had just been conducted thither by the partner with whom she had danced, under the pretext of receiving some refreshment. The father suspected nothing wrong; but lest he should observe the whisperings that passed between the parties, two ladies who were in the secret, and in the interest of the young gentleman, stood together immediately before them, [-26-] in such a position, apparently engaged in earnest conversation, as to render it impossible he could perceive that anything confidential was taking place.
So anxious are the committee of Almack’s to promote matrimonial matches, that they often refuse to admit young gentlemen whom they think in marriageable circumstances, to a third season, because he has "done no good" the two first. They reason in this way :—The young gentleman who is in circumstances to justify his marrying, and who has withstood all the female attractions of two seasons, will, in all probability, become a confirmed bachelor—a sort of animal who has no business at Willis’s Rooms. I think there is much sound philosophy in this reasoning, and much wisdom in the determination to give no encouragement to bachelors. They are a moral nuisance in the company of marriageable ladies,—as they also are, very often, in the society of their own sex. It is tantalising to a young lady, after having perhaps for years been, to use a homely phrase, "setting her cap" at [-27-] one of these personages—to her own prejudice it may be, in relation to other suitors, who would have proved excellent husbands,—it is tantalising to find after all that he is invulnerable to female fascination.
The tickets which are given to gentlemen candidates, whether for the season or for a set of balls, or for a single night only, are not - transferable to any other party. Ladies’ tickets are transferable from a mother to a daughter, from a daughter to a mother, or from sister to sister; but in no other case. No family is allowed to have more than three ladies’ tickets. It is an understood thing among the ladies-patronesses, that no subscription or ticket be given by either of themselves to a lady whom the lady- patroness does not visit, or to a gentleman who is not introduced to her by a lady who is on her visiting list. No lady’s or gentleman’s name can continue on the list of the same lady-patroness for more than two sets of balls; -nor are ladies to consider themselves entitled to the second set of halls, unless it has been so inti-[-28-]mated to them when they received their vouchers for the first. There is another regulation strictly observed by the ladies-patronesses, which is, that no lady or gentleman shall have more than six tickets from the same lady-patroness during the season.
There is one thing which has always characterised Almack’s: that is the entire absence of political feeling in the administration of its affairs. The ladies-patronesses, like most of the other female branches of the nobility, have their own individual prejudices and partialities on political subjects; but they never carry them into the committee-room. Their politics have nothing to do with the election of each other when there are any vacancies, nor do they ever influence their decisions as to the admission or rejection of the candidates.
The ladies-patronesses have for many years past consisted exclusively of married ladies. This indeed, as matters are now managed, is an indispensable regulation. There are many little things connected with the discharge of their offi-[-29-]cial duties, which would not altogether suit the delicacy requisite in young misses.
The office is no sinecure. The duties connected with it are of the most arduous nature. The solicitations the patronesses are ever receiving from all parties, praying them to use their influence on this one’s behalf, and the next one’s behalf were enough to try the patience of the most philosophic lady in existence. Then there is the trouble of opening and examining the host of three-cornered applications on paper, at Willis’s rooms, together with a thousand other little matters which must be attended to. Those only who have had to bear the burden of so much business, can tell what its weight is. So entirely are the ladies-patronesses engaged with the cares of office during the season, that one and all of their husbands protest they are perfectly useless as regards their domestic duties.
Some of these unhappy husbands wish that their being useless were the worst of the evil. Not only is everything neglected at home, to the unspeakable joy of the servants, who do not fail to [-30-] have their "season" too; but the Almack’s mania is carried to such a height, that the unlucky husbands never know when their carriages or horses are at their own disposal, or when they are not. A lady is in ecstasies of delight when she is chosen one of the patronesses; she overlooks the trouble and fatigue in the honour and power the office confers on her; but no one yet ever heard of a husband being glad to learn that his wife had been chosen one of the ministers in this great temple of fashion; all of them have been heard rather to lament the circumstance, as one of the greatest calamities of their life, and to wish Almack’s at the—I will not say where; because the poor husbands say it thoughtlessly and in the heat of the moment.
The room in which the balls take place is one of the most beautiful in London: perhaps I might say it is not to be surpassed anywhere else. When lighted up it has a most dazzling effect; and I need not say what the scene must be when crowded with all the beauty which the aristocracy can boast. The doors are thrown [-31-] open at ten o’clock; betwixt that time and eleven, the bustle and animation in St. James’s Street exceeds anything which the mind can picture to itself. You hear far and near the cracking of the whip, the clattering of the horses’ hoofs, the rattling of the carriages, the hallooing of coachmen and footmen; and you see the most splendid equipages, bearing with them the choicest beauty and fashion of the land, flying past you every moment, all on their way to the scene of action for the night. Dancing commences at eleven. Either Weippert or Collinet then strikes up his band. From that moment till four o’clock, there is no repose for the poor fiddlers: they, indeed, are the only mortals to be pitied there. And yet, I am not sure after all, whether that which would under other circumstances, be an intolerable labour, be not so much lightened by the "bright phalanx of beauty," as Sir Samuel Whalley would say, before them, as to be scarcely any labour at all.
Formerly the rooms were shut at twelve o’clock [-32-] precisely, and no member was, under any circumstances whatever might be the rank of the party, admitted after that hour. Some years since, however, the ladies-patronesses came to a resolution that an exception should be made in favour of those members who belonged to either House of Parliament.
The circumstances under which this exemption in their favour was made, were amusing. The Duke of Wellington came in breathless haste one evening to King Street, just as an important debate had been concluded in the House of Lords, and rushing up to the door, requested admittance. It was then precisely five minutes past twelve. He was told by the person stationed at the door that he was too late, and that he could not be admitted. "Humph !" said his Grace, in his own peculiar manner, and looking at the person who refused to open the door, with an expression of countenance which almost petrified the poor fellow, " Humph ! it’s only a few minutes past twelve."
"Can’t help it, your Grace; am sorry, but [-33-] the orders of the ladies-patronesses are peremptory that no one be admitted after twelve."
" Sir, open the door this instant," said the Duke, sternly.
"Can’t do it, your Grace," was the answer. The Duke, for the first time in his life, now knew what it was to command without being obeyed. The poor wight of a door-keeper though afraid of offending the Duke, was still more so of offending their highnesses, the ladiespatroflesses.
"And you won’t open the door then," said the Duke, once more.
"I daren’t do it, your Grace: my orders are most positive."
"Then, sir, you shall hear more of this," said the Duke, and wheeling about on his heel, he quitted the place.
The circumstance having been brought before the ladies-patronesses, they came to the re - solution of making an exception in favour of members of both Houses of Parliament.
The room, which is spacious and lofty, is [-34-] lined all round with two ranges of sofas. The ladies-patronesses have one sofa appropriated to themselves at the upper end. It is an interesting sight to see the various sofas gradually filling as the distinguished visitors drop, one after the other, into the room. A little before the dance commences, and when almost all have arrived, and are seated on the sofas, the scene is one which it is not for me to attempt to describe. At a late ball, a stupid old nobleman, contrary to the etiquette on such occasions, walked over from one side to another to speak to the Dowager Duchess of Rothieniurchus. The daughter of the latter gently reproved him by saying, "Your Grace must be a bold man to cross the room just now with all eyes upon you." "He must, indeed," said a noble marquis, of great military reputation, to whom the young lady afterwards repeated the observation, "he must, indeed. I know this, that I would at any time much sooner face the enemy on the field of battle, than have walked slowly over the room, as he did, at such a moment."
[-35-] In order that no one may encroach on the space set apart for the dancers, it is marked off by ropes, which extend along the room. This has the desired effect; the space intended is always kept clear; but some of the more spirited of the dancers, especially among the male sex, often dash against the ropes in the midst of the gallopade, and sometimes, by the rebound, are thrown prostrate on the floor. There would be no harm in this, if they were themselves the only parties who suffered from their "rushing," as Miss Caroline Frederica Beauclerk says, "like headstrong fillies," because it would serve to teach them to proceed at a more moderate pace next time; but the evil is, that others, and ladies too, suffer as well as themselves. When they are thrown down on the floor, it not unfrequently happens that they prove a stumblingblock to some "charming young lady," who, before she is aware, falls over them, and is stretched in the same horizontal posture as themselves. A few seasons ago, Lord Larmont had been gallopading it at such a rate, that [-36-] down he went, and in a moment three others, one of them a young lady, followed his example.
"Accidents" as they are called, from this cause, are not so common as are those which occur from the slipperiness of the floor. In order to give it a polish, it is rubbed over with some French composition, the nature of which I forget; and it matters not much though I do. This composition makes the floor very slippery, and as the gallopade, which more resembles a race than an ordinary dance, is the most common dance at Almack’s, it is not surprising that "accidents" should occasionally occur on the floor. Last season, several accidents of this kind took place. The Hon. Miss Lorimer fell one evening with a tremendous crash on the floor, taking with her Lord Covesea, who chanced to have hold of her hand at the moment. Two others, a lady and gentleman, as if envying the fortune of the prostrate couple, immediately reduced themselves to the same level. The prostrate beauties, as if by an undefinable species of sympathy, uttered piercing shrieks as they [-37-] lay on the ground. In a moment every mamma and chaperon in the room, whose daughter or charge was not by her side at the time, hurried to the scene of the catastrophe in the utmost alarm. The unfortunate beauties, more frightened than hurt, were promptly raised by the gallantry of those of the opposite sex nearest to them at the time, and after shedding a few tears, all was as much set to rights as if nothing had happened.
Some idea of the gallopade at Almack’s will be formed from the following lines by the Hon. Miss Caroline Beauclerk, niece of the Duke of St. Albans, herself one of the best dancers that ever occupied a floor. The poetry is by no means superior, but the picture given of the thing intended to be represented, is rather vivid.
An ALMACK’S GALLOPADE.
Now Weippert’s harp each youthful breast inspires,
A space is clear’d, the dancers take their ground,
Each dancing beau claims her he most admires—
With pleasure here all youthful hearts rebound.
[-38-] But see the galoppe’s graceful, joyous strain,
Makes the red rose mount high in beauty’s cheeks,
Old damsels round for partners hunt in vain,
Th’ unrivall’d one his favour’d fair one seeks.
Enchanting dance !—the growth of German land—
At thy gay signal fairy feet are flying;
Soft vows are made, and broke, as hand in hand
The dancers rush in speed each other vying.
Let’s mark the num’rous vot’ries of the dance;—
L— first rushes like a headstrong filly,
Cranstoun and Walpole may be said to prance,
Smith’s so, so,—and ditto, Baron Billie.
E’-en envy now is mute at Erskine’s grace,
While Hillsborough a Hercules advances;
Who can cease gazing on Alicia’s face,
Till Blackwood smiles, or Fanny Brandling dances.
St. John,—sweet Maynard,—pretty Stanhope glide,
And lively Hill inciting gentle Karr,
Meade and Regina ambling side by side,
In dancing this, are all much on a par.
Oh! now observe, Maude, Littleton, and Brooke,
Flowers so pure, you’d deem from heav’n they fell,
While N,—t—n, queen-like in her very look,
Would make a desert bliss,—a heav’n of hell.
[-39-] Desperate rush a band of raw recruits,
With ardent minds, and no regard to time—
I beg their pardon, but they are such brutes,
They must excuse my writing such a line.
Hark! a sound as if from a percussion,
Follow’d by piercing shrieks, arouse our fears;
Chaperons rise alarm’d, and dread concussion—
A prostrate beauty is dissolv’d in tears.
Think not the prospects of the night are turned,
For a bright vision glances in the ring;
No sooner is he seen, than all are spurn’d,
They seem his subjects,—he appears their king,
* * * in whom the gift of dancing lies,
For graceful ease none can with him compare,
" Swift as an arrow from the shaft he flies"-—
Envied by men, and worshipp’d by the fair.
See him, like the forked lightning flashing,
No ear can catch the sound of his footfall,
Down the room the gallant * * * dashing,
The pride of Almack’s—darling of a ball.
All things at length must cease, and so must this;
I’ll end what bumpkins call the gallopade;
Sweet unmeant speeches pass from Miss to Miss,
All go to flirt, drink tea, and lemonade.
[-40-] The galoppe’s ended, so my lay must stop;
As a finale I propose to sing,
(While love—sick beaux, to belles the question pop,)
With loyal heart and voice—Long live the King!
Some further information relative to an Almack’s dance, will be gleaned from the following lines, which appeared in the " Court Journal" a few years since. It will be seen that particular allusion is made to one of those " falling" occurrences, to which I have referred, as by no means uncommon on the slippery floor of Willis’s large room. The lines are headed
A SCENE AT ALMACK S.
Oh! let me sing the "sprightly gallopade,"
Which seems so easy, but which is so hard,—
At least to dance it well. I do not mean
To romp it, as, alas! too often seen.
Well may mammas and chaperons then exclaim,
"Why, what a dance! ‘tis really quite a shame
To suffer it !" but no—I mean the elide,
With which the graceful Danischwild doth glide
So smoothly o’er the boards. Here let me tell
The sad mishaps, which Wednesday last befell
Some young aspirants for the "galoppe’s" fame,
At Almack’s ball—but whom? I must not name.
[-41-] One round the room his partner safely bears,
While one his ancient war-cry thinks he hears—
"Charge, Chester! charge !" He did at such a pace,
(Against the ropes,) that falling on his face,
Quite stunned the hero lay upon the ground,
His hapless partner too, some gather round;
While murmurs from the lips of many a beau,
" Alas! that such a man should fall so low
But while the music in a lively strain
Strikes up, and dancing recommenced—again
It ceased, that two more might be raised
From the glib floor, which often they had praised
For being "smooth and slippery like glass."
Ah! little did they think how soon, alas!
‘Twould prove their saying—and before
The dancing ceased, upon that very floor
Another couple fell. Then, practise, beaux
Perhaps you may improve, perhaps—who knows?
Mind, ere you go again to Almack’s ball
To gallope well, like some, else not at all!
In reference to the above, the following lines were written, under the head of an
ANSWER TO THE SCENE AT ALMACK’S.
Ye spiteful tongues, who deem it well
To speak the luckless fate of those who fell
At Almack’s glitt’ring hall,—O! give their due
To all! and sing the triumph of the gallant two
[-42-] Who fell, only triumphantly to rise,
Regardless of the smiles of gazing eyes.
No right, indeed, had envious lips to say,
"Upon the floor" the fallen C—st—r lay,
For lightly springing from the ground,
His trembling partner bearing round,
Again he braved the gallopade,
By all allowed to be so hard.
Not so the waltzers—they, (0 thoughtless crew
Along the slipp’ry boards their way pursue
Till careless of each other’s headlong course,
The couples meet with stunning force— Their balance lost, down, down the foremost go!
Four prostrate lie! one luckless belle below!
Nor could their fallen spirits soar
Like some ! for they could dance no more!
And, C—st—r, had you staid to see their fall,
Well might you say,—" Waltz well! or not at all !"
The gallopade and the waltz are now the only things danced at the Almack’s
balls. I have heard the question asked, why is it so? I have also, let me add,
heard it said, in answer to the question, that it is because that if new dances
were to be introduced, it would have the effect of "thinning the
floor," inasmuch as noblemen and others could not "go through
them." To be sure, there would remain another [-43-] alternative: they might go
again and get steps from their French dancing-masters; but that alternative
would be a troublesome one, and the class of persons who frequent Almack’s
like to be put to as little trouble as possible. The waltz, therefore, though so
severely condemned by every person of moral feeling, and even by persons—
witness Lord Byron—whose notions of morality are by no means strict, is the
favourite dance at Almack’s.
The number of members of Almack’s is between 700 and 800. The largest attendance ever known on any one occasion was about 650; which is a number much too great for the size of the room. The average attendance is 500. This was the number present at the concluding ball of last season. It was a fancy ball. Some idea will be formed of one of these balls by the following account of the closing one in July last, drawn up by a gentleman who has witnessed many such splendid scenes
"Wednesday night closed the series of these [-44-] splendid balls for the season. As announced, it was a fancy dress ball, and it was of a very brilliant description; about 500 of the nobility and gentry were present.
"The ladies-patronesses entered the ballroom at an early hour, attired in most splendid costumes, and the display of brilliants we never saw surpassed, even at a birth-day drawing-room. The Marchioness of Londonderry wore a brilliant diadem with bandeaux of the same costly jewels en coiffure: a tunic of white tulle, embroidered in silver, and a dress of rich white satin, embroidered to correspond; a ceinture of costly brilliants. Countess Cowper wore a head-dress of great magnificence, composed of ruby-coloured velvet, the front edged entirely with diamonds and enclosing four brilliant stars, composed of diamonds of great magnitude. The Countess Brownlow, Lady Willoughby D’Eresby, and the other ladies-patronesses, were also attired in most magnificent dresses.
"The ball-room was thrown open at ten [-45-] o’clock, illuminated by a profusion of wax-lights, the orchestra tastefully ornamented with garlands of flowers, and the tout ensemble was splendid. The majority of the company appeared in fancy dresses, national costumes, and naval and military uniforms. Included in the company were several foreigners of rank; amongst the ladies who made their debut the Princess Galitzin and the Princess Wittycapstein were noticed particularly from the splendour of their costumes and personal attractions,
"At 11 o’clock, dancing commenced to the music of Collinet’s fine quadrille band, led by Nadaud, and including Tolbecque, Remy, Rhode, Hatton, &c., from the King’s Theatre. Muzard’s quadrilles, " L’Eclair," " Micheline," and "La Tete de Bronze," were finely played, as also the favourite waltzes, "Le Remede contre le Sommeil," and others by Strause. A gallopade terminated the dancing, and "God save the King" closed the balls for the present season.
[-46-] "It was after five o’clock next morning before the company had retired.
Amongst the company were—
Princes—Galitzin and Wittycapstein.
Princesses—Wittycapstein and Galitzin.
Marquisses—Douglas and De Somery.
Marchionesses—Londonderry and De Salsa.
Earls—Sandwich, Falmouth, Beauchamp, Clonnie-], and March.
Countesses—Brownlow, Mansfield, Beauchamp, Chichester, Norbury, Rosse, Oxford, and Cowper.
Lords—Palmerston, Grimston, Ranelagh, Brabazon, Alford, Ridsdale, Loftus, A. Loftus, W. Lennox, F.
Beauclerk, Combermere, Dalmeny, Powerscourt, Bridport, Earlsfort, Maynard, A. Paget, H. Vane, Foley, and Leveson.
Ladies—Willoughby D’Eresby, John Russell, Georgiana Russell, C. Cavendish, Hardy, St. John, Gossett,
A. Arden, H. Mitchell, G. Fane, Beauchamp Proctor, C. Murray, E. Murray, B. Codrington, A. Poulet Dillon, E. Fielden, Rendlesham, De Clifford, Pringle,
Quintin, Ashbrook, Dudley Stuart, Dynevor, M. Cotes,
Hatherton, Knightly, B. Palk, B. Smythe, M. Pelham,
A. Pelham, Gage, F. Bentinck, S. Kerr, Mildmay,
Strutt, C. Dundas, H. Toler, A. Parsons, Scott (2),
Brom-]ey, Blackwood, Trollope, and Ponsonby. Barons —Litzenhern and Wedel Fedherg. Foreign Counts—Henri de Castella, G. Shovalofl
[-47-] "Sets of quadrilles were formed in the course of the evening, by—
The Hon. Spencer Cowper, with the Hon. Miss Maynard.
The Hon. James Howard, with the Hon. Miss Cotton.
The Marquis of Douglas, with Miss Strachan.
The Earl of March, with Miss Codrington.
The Hon. C. Forester, with Miss Beauclerk.
The Hon. W. Ashley, with Miss F. Beauclerk.
A. Esterhazy, Seckendriff, Plessen, Stanislaus, Kos kiowski, Jules Koskiowski, D’Ugglass, and Shovaloff.
Sirs—H. Willoughby, B. Codrington, E. Cust, W. B. Proctor, C. Knightly, F. Domville, F. Trench, R. Gordon, W. Brabazon, C. Des Voeux, and E. Cust.
Honourable Messieurs - Cole, C. Cavendish, R. Pe.. tre, C. Berkeley, W. Ashley, Granvllle, Berkeley, C. Forester, Thellusson, C. Edwards, G. Scott, J. How.. ard, and S. Montagu.
Honourable Mesdames—Petre, Ponsonby, Vansit.. tart, L. Stanhope, W. Ashley, John Gage, G. Berke.. ley, Tollemache, Law, and Thellusson.
Honourable Misses—Willoughby, Somerset (2), St. John, Rice (2), B. King, Mitchell, Cotton, Dillon, Thellusson, Flower, Maude, Littleton, Gage (2), Hood, G. Kinnaird, Maynard, &c.
[-48-] "The two latter young ladies wore elegant costumes, as Spanish Flower Girls."
Perhaps there is no instance on record in the history of the world, of such
an assemblage of beauty as is exhibited at the most numerously attended balls at
Almack’s. At drawing rooms and queen’s levees there may be more of the fair
sex present; but then rank alone is the qualification for admission to these;
while the resolution adopted by the ladies-patronesses of Almack’s, of not
admitting more than three of a family to their balls, affords them an excuse for
excluding any persons they think fit. And they generally do make a point of
preferring beauties to "horrid creatures." In fact, however much
they may differ on other matters, they are quite unanimous in this, that
"quizzes"-—which translated into more intelligible English, means
ugly girls—are by all means to be kept out of Almack’s. I need not add that
the intrinsic charms of the female frequenters of Almack’s are greatly
heightened by their splendid dresses and the magnificent appearance of the room.
[-49-] Of these dresses I say nothing, because I cannot describe them. That is not in my way. Judging from the specimen which Mr. W., the author of a late popular work, afforded of his abilities in describing ladies’ costumes, in the case of some of our female nobility, there is no doubt he would excel in "pencilling" the ladies’ dresses at Almack’s, I, however, have not the honour of being Mr. W., nor have I the happiness of possessing his talents——not certainly, at least, in this particular department of literature. I therefore content myself—I must do so—with saying, that altogether the scene is, indeed, perfectly dazzling: to foreigners who have seen nothing of the kind it is sometimes quite overpowering. Provincial papers in reviewing. the Annuals, usually say, that the contents, both in poetry and prose, are all so mentorious that they do not know "which to select:" I have often thought that young noblemen and others who maybe contemplating "a match" must be pretty much in the same predicament when examining the female "contents" of Almack’s on [-50-] one of the ball nights. They are all beautiful, as the same journalists say. If there were only a sprinkling of beauties, as is the ease in most miscellaneous assemblages of women, in the higher as well as in the humbler walks of life, then a male candidate for matrimonial bliss would have little difficulty in making his choice: but how are you to make up your mind where there are, perhaps, a couple of hundred marriageable ladies before you, all lovely—so lovely —so equally lovely, that you cannot for the life of you say which is the loveliest! If the ass starved between the two bundles of hay, owing to his not being able to decide which had the preferable claim on his stomach, is it to be wondered that a poor young fellow who meditates matrimony, should hesitate when he sees two hundred eligible ladies before him, whose personal claims are so equally poised? He feels precisely in the situation of Macheath in the "Beggar’s Opera" of Gray. He ejaculates to himself, "How happy could 1 be with either,— were the other dear charmers away!" I could ne-[-51-]ver find any excuse for Lord Eldon doubting for years as to how he should decide certain Chancery cases which came before him: had his lordship come to Almack’s to choose a wife, II should not have i1uarrelled with him had he doubted till doomsday. Almack’s, I fear—and I do not wonder at it—will have to answer for making many a man a bachelor for life, who, perhaps, had he never set foot in it, would, like most other men, have sobered himself down in wedlock. The scene has bewildered him: he did not know which of the beauties to choose, and therefore made no choice at all. He admired them all a great deal too much to do the others an injustice by "buckling with one."
You would suppose from the soft and smiling countenances you see everywhere around you, that there were nothing but simplicity and happiness in the bosoms of all present. Could you read those bosoms, whether of old or young, you would come to a very different conclusion. The mothers and chaperons dressed, as one of the Misses Beauclerks would say, in their "regula-[-52-]tion" satin robes, with their velvet or crape hats, "ornamented" with waving plumes of feathers, are severally putting their ingenuity to the rack to "hook" some eider son with a title and a good rent-roll for their "loves" of daughters, or for girls committed to their charge. These antiquated ladies, with "rouged faces and false frontlets," have, it must be admitted, a very difficult game to play. They have not only to get "the girls" in the way of the "prizes," but they have to keep them out of the way of the detrimentals. Their minds, from the moment they enter the ball-room to the time of quitting it, are occupied with the one thought of how the evil may be avoided and the good attained. Their pleasure or pain, therefore, depends entirely on how far they fancy they succeed or fail in this great object. Perhaps they see some rival mamma, or chaperon, supplanting them; their envy and mortification in that case are indescribable. If they are successful in entangling in their meshes some "suitable" youth, then they are envied by others in their turn. I [-53-] wish it were possible to see what bitter animosity, what deadly dislike towards each other, two rival mothers or chaperons can conceal under a fair exterior. But besides these sources of uneasiness and anxiety to those elderly ladies who have "lovely creatures" on their hand at Almack’s, and are desirous of transferring the burden to some elder unmarried son, there are a thousand little things which are unknown to all but themselves. To get a conspicuous place in the ball-room in which to station themselves— a place at which young Miss may display her charms to advantage, is often no easy matter. Care is to be taken that the lady beside which "my daughter" sits be not dressed in such a way as to impair the effect of her personal attractions. "My dear," said the Marchioness of Gardenstown, on the last night but one of Almack’s last season, just as Miss was pointing out to "mamma" a particular place at which she thought they might be comfortably seated; "My dear, you must not sit beside that horrid old creature, the Duchess Dowager of Longhride; she wears [-54-] such a profusion of pink and yellow, that it will make you look so pale." "Jemima, my love, why don’t you show a little more animation in dancing with Lord Budget," said the Countess of Leuchars, on a late occasion, to her second daughter, just as she had re-seated herself after quitting the floor. If "my love" be seen speaking to a detrimental, "mama," or the lady who plays chaperon, is within a few removes of hysterics. But we shall never be able to form any idea of the sources of misery there are to those who have young ladies to dispose of, even in Almack’s—all happy as the former appear to be —until we are favoured with a faithful mental autobiography of some intelligent chaperon.
With regard to the young ladies, again, who are to be seen at Almack’s, there is immeasurably more misery among them than the superficial observer would believe. One who does not look below the surface would infer from their smiling faces, the lightness of their step in the dance, and the general gaiety of their appearance, that if there be happiness in the world [-55-] they must be the possessors of it. Could those who think so prevail on any half dozen of them to give a candid statement of their feelings, from the time they entered Willis’s Rooms until the coach was called, they would see how far they were wide of the real state of the case. None but young misses themselves can form any conception of the misery which, on such occasions, is caused to them by seeing attentions paid by the male sex to their rivals. A single look or smile from the object of a young lady’s affections to some other young lady, is like plunging a dagger into the bosom of the former. It is also a prolific source of misery to young ladies when they see families of distinction paying more attention to some of their acquaintances than is paid to themselves. It is well known in certain circles that one young lady has almost broken her heart because an acquaintance was repeatedly asked to dance by noblemen of consideration, while she was suffered to occupy a seat by her mother’s side the whole night. For one young lady to hear the charms of another [-56-] young lady, with whom she is on visiting terms warmly praised, is of all punishments the worst you could inflict. It may be, again, that "the loved one" is not among the number of noblemen and gentlemen present and that her mind is wandering in foreign climes after the object of her affections. What is Almack’s, with all its glitter and glare, to such a person? It is no better than a wilderness. To her ears the music has no charms; the dance no attractions. She has no sympathy with those around her. She would feel herself as much in society among an equal number of those ‘composition’ ladies who grace a hairdressers window. The severe remarks which young ladies make on each other at Almack’s sufficiently prove how unhappy some of them are while there. There is a malignity in some of these remarks, which one might vain search for elsewhere, and which painfully contrasts with the lovely countenances and snow-like bosoms of those who make them. I once heard the Rev. Thomas Dale, a poet poet as well as divine, [-57-] say, that there is many a bosom encased in silks and satins which is as hard as the very stones of the street on which the parties tread. Could the rev, gentleman inspect the bosoms of the beauties of Almaek’s, he would find too many proofs of the justness of his observation.
But this is an ungrateful topic, and therefore I will dwell on it no longer. Four o’clock is the usual hour at which the ball begins to break up; but the dance is often prolonged till five. In June and July the sun sometimes shines into the ballroom, and impairs the effect of the artificial lights which shone so brilliantly throughout the night. Poor, indeed, is the appearance of these lights, when they have to compete with their rising rival of the east; and equally poor is the appearance of the beauties who remain till so late an hour, compared with what it was while darkness was over the face of the earth, and the profusion of lights in the ball-room shone with undiminished splendour. The rosy hues which, hut a few hours before mantled their cheeks, are now, as a gifted authoress, in a poetical piece of [-58-] exquisite beauty, says when speaking of the effects of death, "fled like fancy’s dream." Now the countenances of the fair are, to use the phraseology of an old Scotch song, "pale and wan." The lingering beauties themselves have not only lost all colour, but all animation; they are little better than so many lifeless statues; Nor does their dress appear to the same advantage as before; one soon discovers many little blemishes in their finery, which the glare of the wax-lights only served to conceal. It is bad policy for young ladies to remain longer at Almack’s, or at any other ball, than four o’clock in the morning. They may rely upon it, that no one ever fell in love with them after that hour. I appeal to the married ladies who have been to Almack’s, whether their husbands proposed to them after the hour of four o’clock in the morning. Not one, I am certain, could answer me in the affirmative. If the truth were known, I doubt not it would be found that many a young lady has dissolved the spell which had before bound her lover to her, by allowing him [-59-] to see her faded charms after four in the morning. A beauty "fagged to death," as young ladies themselves say, by the fatigues of dancing and the want of sleep, is in a much more unfit condition for being seen, though in her ball-dress, than she would be in her morning’s dishabille.
Such is Almack’s. And is this the place— the far-famed place—some one will say, of which we hear so much, but whose proceedings are enshrouded in so much secrecy? It is indeed. And it is to gain admission to this place, that such great and anxious efforts are made by so many families. I stated in the beginning of the chapter, that the importance of Almack’s arises from the supreme power it exercises over the world of fashion. It will be asked, how came a half-dozen ladies to acquire the power of making or unmaking whole families by a single word, just as their caprice may dictate? Like all other unlimited sovereignties, it was of gradual growth. It began, as before mentioned, by four ladies starting, nearly a century since, a sort of female club. The aristocracy of that period became [-60-] members of the association; and the decisions of the directresses, or committee of management, were acquiesced in. As the number of members increased, they became more and more particular as to the persons they admitted. Other ladies-patronesses of distinction, succeeded the originators of Almack’s, and they by degrees assumed new powers, the exercise of which was submitted to by the higher classes. In this way Almack’s has risen to its present importance and weight in the fashionable world, no one ever having made a successful attack on the administration of its affairs. It is a despotism which fills some of the highest families in the kingdom with fear and trembling. There are thousands whose joy at its overthrow would be unbounded; but still every one shrinks from the idea of an open and vigorous effort to accomplish so desirable an object.
It has been the fate of Almack’s to be attacked from all quarters. I have spoken of the abuse heaped on the institution, and on the ladiespatronesses for the time being, by those who [-61-] have been refused admission. The attacks of such parties are natural enough. The fox pronounced the grapes to be sour, when he could not reach them. But what is surprising is, that a work which, for nearly a quarter of a century, has been the strenuous defender of everything aristocratic, should make a dead set at an institution the most thoroughly exclusive that ever existed in this country. Who could ever have believed that such a passage as the following could by possibility have found its way into the "Quarterly Review?" Yet so it is. It appeared a few months since in that journal, and went the round of the newspapers
"The rise of Almack’s (an exclusive fashionable dancing assembly at the west end of London) may serve to illustrate the mode in which this sort of empire was consolidated. A few pretty women, not in the highest rank of the nobility, met at Devonshire House to practise quadrilles, then recently imported from the Continent. The establishment of a subscription ball was suggested, to which none but the very elite [-62-] were to be admissible; the subscription to be low, with the view of checking the obtrusive vulgarity of wealth. The fancy took, and when it transpired that the patronesses had actually refused a most estimable English duchess, all London became mad to be admitted; exclusion was universally regarded as a positive loss of caste, and no arts of solicitation were left untried to avert so horrible a catastrophe. The wives and daughters of ‘the oldest provincial gentry, with pedigrees traced up to the Heptarchy, have been seen humbling themselves, by the lowest acts of degradation, to soften the obdurate autocratesses. The fancy has gradually abated, and the institution is now tottering to its fall; but its origin is worth recording, as a ludicrous phenomenon in the progress of society."
Had any one seen this paragraph in the course of its journeyings round the newspaper press, without the appendage "Quarterly Review" to it, he would have at once concluded that it must have originally graced the columns of "The [-63-] Poor Man’s Guardian," "Cleave’s Police Gazette," or some other of the then unstamped. "The Quarterly," however, in its anxiety to destroy Almack’s, falls into one or two misstatements. It is not correct to say that it is now tottering to its fall. The number of members, which, as I have before stated, is between 700 and 800, is greater than at any former period, and the thing is carried on with as much spirit as ever. The same anxiety to obtain admission still exists, and it is those only who have been unsuccessful in their applications, who endeavour to cry the institution down. The probability is, that the attack in question by "The Quarterly," emanates from some such disappointed party.
Their high mightinesses, the ladies-patronesses, have inflicted a world of pain on thousands of individuals, and have made whole families miserable for life by their arbitrary and harsh decrees. The poor African slave does not quail and tremble more under the apprehension of the lash of his tyrant master, than do many of the [-64-] first families in the land at the bare idea of being refused admittance to Almack’s. It is no secret—it is not so, at least, in certain circles— that some time ago an amiable young lady of high birth and excellent connexions, actually died of a broken heart, because the cabal in King-street, for reasons best known to themselves, rejected her application for a subscription to Almack’s. It is added, that her physician, having ascertained the cause of her illness, took occasion to submit the case to the empresses of fashion, when one day assembled in full divan, appealing at the same time to their humanity for the admission of the young lady; but, as the story goes, without effect. The decree had gone forth that she should be excluded, and there was no reversal.
People talk of monopolies: will any one point me out a monopoly so monstrous as this? It will be asked, why then not abolish it? But how, let me ask in return, is that to be done? It is a system far more close, and despotic, and oppressive to the fashionable world, than the political [-65-] system which prevailed before the passing of the Reform Bill, was to the people generally; but the evil is, that you cannot well reach it by legislative acts. Strictly speaking, it is one with which Parliament cannot properly interfere; there is no law which it infringes; it is just as legal as any other society or club which is known to exist But even suppose some legislator, who had himself been shut out from Almack’s by the high behests of the half dozen tyrants in petticoats, were to make a proposition to put it down, how, think you, would such a proposition be received in either House? Why, the dandies in both Houses, headed by the Earl of Falrnouth in the one, and by the Hon. Grantley Berkeley in the other, would rise en masse to put an extinguisher upon it. It would not be entertained for a moment. The ladies-patronesses have too many friends in both Houses for that.
The question again recurs, how is this nuisance in high life to be abated? That is the very question which of all others I cannot answer. I can see no probability of its being put [-66-] down but by some serious disagreement among the ladies-patronesses themselves. It is a scriptural adage, that a house divided against itself cannot stand. Let the genius of discord be fairly introduced among their ladyships, so as to induce three or four of them to resign at once, and you put an immediate extinguisher on Almack’s. I see no other probable way by which the thing can be done.
Since the above was written, the name of the Countess of Lichfield has been added to the list of ladies-patronesses, again making the number seven.
[nb. grey numbers in brackets indicate page number, (ie. where new page begins), ed.]