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The Waltz

Lord Byron


The Waltz

"Qualis in Eurotae ripis, aut per luga Cynthi,
Exercet Diana choros." --- VIRGIL

"Such on Eurota's banks, or Cynthia's height,
Diana seems: and so she charms the sight,
When in the dance the graceful goddess leads
The quire of nymphs, and overtops their heads."
                                                                            DRYDEN'S VIRGIL.


I am a country gentleman of a midland county.  I might have been a parliament man for a certain borough; having had the offer of as many votes as General T. at the general election in 1812*. But I was all for domestic happiness; as, fifteen years ago, on a visit to London, I married a middle-aged maid of honour. We lived happily at Hornem Hall till last season, when my wife and I were invited by the Countess of Waltzaway (a distant relation of my spouse) to pass the winter in town. Thinking no harm, and our girls being come to a marriageable (or, as they call it, marketable) age, and having besides a Chancery suit, inveterately entailed upon the family estate, we came up in our old chariot, --- of which, by the by, my wife grew so much ashamed in less than a week, that I was obliged to buy a second-hand barouche, of which I might mount the box, Mrs. H. says, if I could drive, but never see the inside --- that place being reserved for the Honourable Augustus Tiptoe, her partner-general and opera-knight. Hearing great praises of Mrs. H.'s dancing (she was famous for birthnight minuets in the latter end of the last century), I unbooted, and went to a ball at the Countess's, expecting to see a country dance, or at most, cotillions, reels, and all the old paces to the newest tunes. But, judge of my surprise, on arriving, to see poor dear Mrs. Hornem with her arms half round the loins of a hugh hussar-looking gentleman I never set eyes on before; and his, to say truth, rather more than half round her waist, turning round and round to a d-----d see-saw up-and-down sort of tune, that reminded me of the "Black Joke," only more "affettuoso," till it made me quite giddy with wondering they were not so. By-and-by they stopped a bit, and I thought they would sit or fall down; --- but no; with Mrs. H's hand on his shoulder, "quam familiariter *," (as Terence said, when I was at school,) they walked about a minute, and then at it again, like two cock-chafers spitted on the same bodkin. I asked what all this meant, when, with a loud laugh, a child no older than our Wilhelmina (a name I never heard but in the Vicar of Wakefield, though her mother would call her after the Princess of Swappenbach,) said, "Lord   Mr. Hornem, can't you see they're valtzing?" or waltzing (I forget which); and then up she got, and her mother and sister, and away they went, and round-abouted it till supper-time. Now, that I know what it is, I like it of all things, and so does Mrs. H. (though I have broken my shins, and four times overturned Mrs. Hornem's maid, in practising the preliminary steps in a morning).  Indeed, so much do I like it, that having a turn for rhyme, tastily displayed in some election ballads, and songs in honour of all the victories (but till lately I have had little practice in that way), I sat down, and with the aid of William Fitzgerald, Esq., and a few hints from Dr. Busby, (whose recitations I attend, and am monstrous fond of Master Busby's manner of delivering his father's late successful "Drury Lane Address,") I composed the following hymn, wherewithal to make my sentiments known to the public; whom, nevertheless, I heartily despise, as well as the critics.

I am, Sir, yours, &c. &c.,


*My Latin is all forgotten, if a man can be said to have forgotten what he never remembered; but I bought my title-page motto of a Catholic priest for a three-shilling bank token, after much hagging for the even sixpence. I grudged the money to a Papist, being all for the memory of Perceval and "No Popery," and quite regretting the downfall at the pope, because we can't burn him any more.


Muse of the many-twinkling feet !   whose charms

Are now extended up from legs to arms;

Terpsichore ---  too long misdeem'd a maid ---

Reproachful term --- bestow'd but to upbraid ---

Henceforth in all the bronze of brightness shine,

The least a vestal of the virgin Nine.

Far be from thee and thine the name of prude:

Mock'd, yet triumphant; sneer'd at, unsubdued;

Thy legs must move to conquer as they fly,

If but thy coats are reasonably high;

Thy breast --- if bare enough --- requires no shield;

Dance forth --- sans armour thou shalt take the field,

And own --- impregnable to most assaults,

Thy not too lawfully begotten "Waltz."

Hail, nimble nymph !    to whom the young hussar,

The whisker'd votary of waltz and war,

His night devotes, despite of spur and boots;

A sight unmatch'd since Orpheus and his brutes:

Hail, spirit-stirring Waltz --- beneath whose banners

A modern hero fought for modish manners;

On Hounslow's heath to rival Wellesley's fame,

Cock'd, fired, and miss'd his man --- but gain'd his aim;

Hail, moving muse !    To whom the fair one's breast

Gives all it can, and bids us take the rest.

Oh   For the flow of Busby, or of Fitz,

The latter's loyalty, the former's wits,

To 'energise the object I pursue,"

And give both Belial and his dance their due !

Imperial Waltz !    Imported from the Rhine

( Famed for the growth of pedigrees and wine ),

Long be thine import from all duty free,

And hock itself be less esteem'd than thee;

In some few qualities alike --- for hock

Improves our cellar --- thou our living stock.

The head to hock belongs --- thy subtler art

Intoxicates alone the heedless heart:

Through the full veins thy gentler poison swims,

And wakes to wantonness the willing limbs.

Oh, Germany !    how much to thee we owe,

As heaven-born Pitt can testify below,

Ere cursed confederation made thee France's,

And only left us thy d----d debts and dances !

Of subsidies and Hanover bereft,

We bless thee still --- for George the Third is left !

Of kings the best --- and last, not least in worth,

For graciously begetting George the Fourth.

To Germany, and highnesses serene,

Who owe us millions --- don't we owe the queen?

To Germany, what owe we not besides?

So oft bestowing Brunswickers and brides;

Who paid for vulgar, with her royal blood,

Drawn from the stem of each Teutonic stud:

Who sent us --- so be pardon'd all her faults ---

A dozen dukes, some kings, a queen --- and Waltz.

But peace to her --- her emperor and diet,

Though now transferr'd to Buonaparte's "fiat ! "

Back to my theme --- O muse of motion !   say,

How first to Albion found thy Waltz her way !

Borne on the breath of hyperborean gales,

From Hamburgh's port (while Hamburg yet had mails),

Ere yet unlucky Fame --- compell'd to creep

To snowy Gottenburg --- was chill'd to sleep;

Or, starting from her slumbers, deign'd arise,

Heligoland    To stock thy mart with lies;

While unburnt Moscow yet had news to send,

Nor owed her fiery exit to a friend,

She came --- Waltz came --- and with her certain sets

Of true despatches, and as true gazettes:

Then flamed of Austerlitz the blest despatch,

Which "Moniteur" nor Morning Post" can match;

And --- almost crush'd beneath the glorious news ---

Ten plays, and forty tales of Kotzebue's;

One envoy's letters, six composers' airs,

And loads from Frankfort and from Leipsic fairs;

Meiner's four volumes upon womankind,

Like Lapland witches to insure a wind;

Brunck's heaviest tome for ballast, and, to back it,

Of Heyné, such as should not sink the packet.

Fraught with cargo --- and her fairest freight,

Delightful Waltz, on tiptoe for a mate,

The welcome vessel reach'd the genial strand,

And round her flock'd the daughters of the land.

Not decent David, when, before the ark,

His grand pas-seul excited some remark;

Not love-lord Quixote, when his Sancho thought

The knight's fandango friskier than it ought;

Not soft Herodias, when, with winning tread,

Her nimble feet danced off another's head;

Not Cleopatra on her galley's deck,

Display'd so much of leg, or more of neck,

Than thou, ambrosial Waltz, when first the moon

Beheld thee twirling to a Saxon tune !

To you, ye husbands of ten years !    whose brows

Ache with the annual tributes of a spouse;

To you of nine years less, who only bear

The budding sprouts of those that you shall wear,

With added ornaments around them roll'd

Of native brass, or law awarded gold;

To you, ye matrons, ever on the watch

To mar a son's, or make a daughter's match;

To you, ye children of --- whom chance accords ---

Always the ladies, and sometimes their lords;

To you, ye single gentlemen, who seek

Torments for life, or pleasures for a week;

As Love or Hymen your endeavours guide,

To gain your own, or snatch another's bride; ---

To one and all the lovely stranger came,

And every ball-room echoes with her name.

Endearing Waltz ---  to thy more melting tune

Bow Irish jig and ancient rigadoon.

Scotch reels, avaunt !   and country-dance, forego

Your future claims to each fantastic toe !

Waltz --- Waltz alone --- both legs and arms demands,

Liberal of feet, and lavish of her hands;

Hands which may freely range in public sight

Where ne'er before --- but --- pray "put out the light."

Methinks the glare of yonder chandelier

Shines much too far --- or I am much too near;

And true, though strange --- Waltz whispers this remark,

"My slippery steps are safest in the dark ! "

But here the Muse with due decorum halts,

And lends her longest petticoat to Waltz.

Observant travellers of every time !

Ye quartos publish'd upon every clime !

O say, shall dull Romaika's heavy round,

Fandango's wriggles, or Bolero's bound;

Can Egypt's Almas --- tantalising group ---

Columbia's caperers to the warlike whoop ---

Can aught from cold Kamchatka to Cape Horn

With Waltz compare, or after Waltz be borne?

Ah, no    from Morier's pages down to Galt's,

Each tourist pens a paragraph for "Waltz."

Shades of those belles whose reign began of yore,

With George the Third's --- and ended long before ! ---

Though in your daughters' daughters yet you thrive,

Burst from your lead, and be yourselves alive !

Back to the ball-room speed your spectred host,

Fool's Paradise is dull to that you lost.

No treacherous powder bids conjecture quake;

No stiff-starched stays make meddling fingers ache;

( Transferr'd to those ambiguous things that ape

Goats in their visage, women in their shape; )

No damsel faints when rather closely press'd,

But more caressing seems when most caress'd;

Superfluous hartshorn, and reviving salts,

Both banish'd by the sovereign cordial "Waltz."

Seductive Waltz !  ---  though on thy native shore

Even Werter's self proclaim'd thee half a whore;

Werter --- to decent vice though much inclined,

Yet warm, not wanton; dazzled, but not blind ---

Though gentle Genlis, in her strife with Stael,

Would ever proscribe thee from a Paris ball;

The fashion hails --- from countesses to queens,

And maids and valets waltz behind the scenes;

Wide and more wide thy witching circle spreads,

And turns --- if nothing else --- at least our heads;

With thee even clumsy cits attempt to bounce,

And cockneys practise what they can't pronounce.

Gods !   How the glorious theme my strain exalts,

And rhyme finds partner rhyme in praise of "Waltz ! "

Blest was the time Waltz chose for her debut;

The court, the Regent, like herself were new;

New face for friends, for foes some new rewards;

New ornaments for black and royal guards;

New laws to hang the rogues that roar'd for bread;

New coins ( most new ) to follow those that fled;

New victories --- nor can we prize them less,

Though Jenky wonders at his own success;

New wars, because the old succeed so well,

That most survivors envy those who fell;

New mistresses --- no, old --- and yet 'tis true,

Though they be old, the thing is something new;

Each new, quite new --- (except some ancient tricks),

New white-sticks, gold sticks, broom-sticks, all new sticks !

With vests or ribands --- deck'd alike in hue,

New troopers strut, new turncoats blush in blue;

So saith the muse: my ------, what say you?

Such was the time when Waltz might best maintain

Her new preferments in this novel reign;

Such was the time, nor ever yet was such;

Hoops are no more, and petticoats not much;

Morals and minuets, virtue and her stays,

And tell-tale powder --- all have had their days.

The ball begins --- the honours of the house

First duly done by daughter or by spouse,

Some potentate --- or royal or serene ---

With Kent's gay grace, or sapient Gloster's mien,

Leads forth the ready dame, whose rising flush

Might once have been mistaken for a blush.

From where the garb just leaves the bosom free,

That spot where hearts were once supposed to be;

Round all the confines of the yielded waist,

The strangest hand may wander undisplaced;

The lady's in return may grasp as much

As princely paunches offer to her touch.

Pleased round the chalky floor how well they trip,

One hand reposing on the royal hip;

The other to the shoulder no less royal

Ascending with affection truly loyal !

Thus front to front the partners move or stand,

The foot may rest, but none withdraw the hand;

And all in turn may follow in their rank,

The Earl of --- Asterisk --- and Lady --- Blank:

Sir --- Such-a-one --- with those of fashion's host,

For whose blest surnames --- vide "Morning Post."

( Or if for that impartial print too late,

Search Doctor's Commons six months from my date ) ---

Thus all and each, in movement swift or slow,

The genial contact gently undergo;

Till some might marvel, with the modest Turk,

If  "nothing follows all this palming work?"

True, honest Mirza ---  you may trust my rhyme ---

Something does follow at a fitter time;

The breast thus publicly resign'd to man,

In private may resist him --- if it can.

O ye who loved our grandmothers of yore,

Fitzpatrick, Sheridan, and many more !

And thou my prince !    whose sovereign taste and will

It is to love the lovely beldames still !

Thou ghost of Queensberry !   Whose judging sprite

Satan may spare to peep a single night,

Pronounce --- if ever in your days of bliss

Asmodeus struck so bright a stroke as this;

To teach the young ideas how to rise,

Flush in the cheek, and languish in the eyes:

Rush to the heart, and lighten through the frame,

With half-told wish, and ill-dissembled flame,

For prurient nature still will storm the breast ---

Who, tempted thus, can answer for the rest?

But ye --- who never felt a single thought

For what our morals are to be, or ought;

Who wisely wish the charms you view to reap,

Say --- would you make those beauties quite so cheap?

Hot from the hands promiscuously applied,

Round the slight waist, or down the glowing side,

Where were the rapture then to clasp the form

From this lewd grasp and lawless contact warm?

At once love's most endearing thought resign,

To press the hand so press'd by none but thine;

To gaze upon that eye which never met

Another's ardent look without regret;

Approach the lip which all, without restraint,

Come near enough --- if not to touch --- to taint;

If such thou lovest --- love her then no more,

Or give --- like her --- caresses to a score;

Her mind with these is gone, and with it go

The little left behind it to bestow.

Voluptuous Waltz !    and dare I thus blaspheme?

Thy bard forgot thy praises were his theme.

Terpsichore, forgive ---  at every ball

My wife now waltzes --- and my daughters shall;

My son --- ( or stop --- 'tis needless to inquire ---

These little accidents should ne'er transpire;

Some ages hence our genealogic tree

Will wear as green a bough for him as me ) ---

Waltzing shall rear, to make our name amends,

Grandsons for me --- in heirs to all his friends.


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