Season (society)

The ‘Season' in Song

‘To live in hearts we leave behind is not to die,' and the Season, when ‘dead,' yet speaks to many through the mouths of the men who have given it perennial life in verse. Its first laureate, one may say, was Mackworth Praed, whose ‘Good-night' to it still remains the most brilliant epitome of its characteristics ever written. Nothing was omitted from that remarkable series of coruscating epigrams. From

‘The breaches and battles and blunders
Performed by the Commons and Peers,'

we are taken to ‘the pleasures which fashion makes duties'—‘the dances, the fillings of hot little rooms,' ‘the female diplomatists, planners of matches for Laura and Jane,' ‘the rages, led off by the chiefs of the throng,' the ballet, the bazaar, the horticultural fête, and what not. Of later years the Season, as a whole, has been celebrated only by Mr. Alfred Austin, who published, more than a quarter of a century ago, a satire which was indeed formidable in its tone. Mr. Austin was severe about everybody—about the

‘Unmarketable maidens of the mart,
Who, plumpness gone, fine delicacy feint,
And hide their sins in piety and paint;'

about the Gardens, where

‘The leafy glade
Prompts the proposal dalliance delayed;'

about the ballrooms, where

‘Panting damsels, dancing for their lives,
Are only maidens waltzing into wives;'

about the theatre, where

‘Toole or Compton, perfect in his part,
Touches each sense, except the head and heart;'

and about a number of other things too censurable to be mentioned here.

And, in truth, when one thinks of the Season in song, one thinks less of the satire than of the sarcasm, less of the cynicism than of the sympathy, with which it has been treated by its poets. Take, for example, that most conspicuous feature of the Season—the walking, riding, driving in the Row. It was Tickell who made a woman of fashion of his day tell how she

‘Mounted her palfrey as gay as a lark,
And, followed by John, took the dust in Hyde Park,'

and how

‘On the way she was met by some smart Macaroni,
Who rode by her side on a little bay pony.'

In our own time the glories and the humours of the Row have been described with geniality by Mr. Frederick Locker and Mr. Ashby-Sterry, with point by Mr. Austin Dobson, and with smartness by H. S. Leigh. Says Mr. Locker:

‘Forsooth, and on a livelier spot
The sunbeam never shines;
Fair ladies here can talk and trot
With statesmen and divines.

‘What grooms! what gallant gentlemen!
What well-appointed hacks!
What glory in their pace, and then,
What beauty on their backs!'

Mr. Dobson, in a different mood, assures his Roman prototype that the world to-day is very much what it was in the time of ‘Q. H. F.':

‘Walk in the Park—you'll seldom fail
To find a Sybaris on the rail
By Lydia's ponies;
Or hap on Barrus, wigged and stayed,
Ogling some unsuspecting maid.

‘Fair Neobule, too! Is not
One Hebrus here—from Aldershot?
Aha, you colour!
Be wise. There old Canidia sits;
No doubt she's tearing you to bits.'

 

The Eton and Harrow match, like lawn-tennis, caret vate sacro ; but the delights of Henley and Hurlingham have been sung in verse, and the Inter-University Boat-race was the subject of some admirable lines by Mortimer Collins and G. J. Cayley:

‘Sweet amid lime-trees' blossom, astir with the whispers of springtide,
Maiden speech to hear, eloquent murmur and sigh
Ah! but the joy of the Thames when, Cam with Isis contending,
Up the Imperial stream flash the impetuous Eights!
Sweeping and strong is the stroke, as they race from Putney to Mortlake,
Shying the Crab Tree bight, shooting through Hammersmith Bridge;
Onward elastic they strain to the deep low moan of the rowlock;
Louder the cheer from the bank, swifter the flash of the oar!'

Pretty again, in its way, is the better-known ‘Boat-race Sketch,' by Mr. Ashby-Sterry, whose heroine

‘Twines her fair hair with the colours of Isis,
Whilst those of the Cam glitter bright in her eyes.'

The joys of Epsom and of Goodwood have not, I believe, been versified by any prominent rhymer, and, concerning those of Ascot, I know of but one elaborate celebration—that which describes, among other things,

‘Tall bottles passing to and fro,
And clear-cut crystal's creamy flow,
Where vied with velvet Veuve Clicquot,
Moët and Chandon;'

as well as

‘The homeward drive that came too soon
By parks and lodges bright with June,
And how we mocked the afternoon
With lazy laughter.'

Nothing, of course, is more peculiar to the Season than the devotion displayed by Society at the shrine of Art. The Academy and the Grosvenor are institutions without which the Season would not be itself. The latter has not figured very conspicuously in song, but at least it has managed to creep into one of the Gilbert-Sullivan operas, in the shape of a rhyme to ‘greenery-yallery.' Mr. Andrew Lang, too, has told us of the critic who had

‘Totter'd, since the dawn was red,
Through miles of Grosvenor Gallery;'

and, in another of his ‘verses vain,' has practically limned the Gallery itself under the guise of ‘Camelot':

‘In Camelot, how gray and green
The damsels dwell, how sad their teen;
In Camelot, how green and gray
The melancholy poplars sway.
I wis I wot not what they mean,
Or wherefore, passionate and lean,
The maidens mope their loves between.'

The character of Burne-Jonesian art is here very happily hit off. Happy, too, is Mr. Lang's sketch of the Philistian features of the Academy:

‘Philistia! Maids in muslin white
With flannelled oarsmen oft delight
To drift upon thy streams, and float
In Salter's most luxurious boat;
In buff and boots the cheery knight
Returns (quite safe) from Naseby fight.'

But did not Praed long ago address ‘The Portrait of a Lady at the Exhibition of the Royal Academy'? Has not Mr. Ashby-Sterry addressed ‘Number One' in the said exhibition—also ‘the portrait of a lady'? And, moreover, has not Mr. Austin Dobson made the Academy the scene of one of his brightly-written dialogues?—that in which the lady says:

‘From now until we go in June
I shall hear nothing but this tune:
Whether I like Long's “Vashti,” or
Like Leslie's “Naughty Kitty” more;
With all that critics, right or wrong,
Have said of Leslie or of Long.'

 

Among the events of every season are the fashionable marriages, one of which is described for us by Mr. Frederick Locker in his ‘St. George's, Hanover Square.' On the subject of the belles of the season I need not dwell. Praed's ‘Belle of the Ballroom' was a provincial beauty; but not so, assuredly, was Pope's and Lord Peterborough's Mrs. Howard, Congreve's Miss Temple, Lord Chesterfield's Duchess of Richmond, Fox's Mrs. Crewe, Lord Lytton's La Marquise, Mr. Aïdè's Beauty Clare, or Mr. Austin Dobson's Avice. Of London balls and routs the poets have been many, including Edward Fitzgerald, C. S. Calverley, and Mr. Dobson again. The opera, so far as I know, has had very few celebrants in rhyme. The ‘Monday Pops' figure in ‘Patience' with the Grosvenor Gallery, but have not otherwise, I fancy, been distinguished in song. On the whole, however, the Season has received poetic tributes at once numerous and interesting.

The ‘Recess' in Rhyme

If the Season has had its laureates, so has the Recess. Why not? Of the two, the latter has the more numerous elements of poetry. Town has its charms for the versifier; there is much to say about its streets, its parks, its belles, its balls, its many diversions. But there is even more, surely, to say about the country, with its ancestral halls, its watering-places, and its shootings, as well as about the seaside and the various attractions outre-mer. Surely, of the two, life out of town has even more delights, for the poet, at any rate, than life in town. Sylvester is reported to have said that people, after tiring in town, go to re-tire in the country. But the saying, if epigrammatic, is not strictly true. No doubt some of us feel bored, wherever we may go, or whatever we may do. But to most people, I imagine, the Recess, if spent out of London, is a time of genuine enjoyment, and certainly it is a time which deserves to be distinguished in song.

The Recess, as spent in London, has been drawn by the rhymers in depressing tints. The picture painted by Haynes Bayly remains—for the fashionable world, at least—almost as true as it ever was. As he said:

‘In town, in the month of September,
We find neither riches nor rank;
In vain we look out for a member
To give us a nod or a frank.
Each knocker in silence reposes,
In every mansion you find
One dirty old woman who dozes,
Or peeps through the dining-room blind.'

This may be compared with the soliloquy put by H. S. Leigh in the mouth of ‘the last man' left in London:

‘The Row is dull, as dull can be;
Deserted is the Drive;
The glass that stood at eighty-three,
Now stands at sixty-five.
The summer days are over,
The town, ah me! has flown,
Through Dover, or to clover—
And I am all alone.'

It has long been held, among a certain class, that to be seen in town during the Recess is to forfeit all pretensions to haut ton. And so ‘the last man' of the Season is naturally represented by Bayly as somewhat ashamed of himself. ‘He'll blush,' we are told, ‘if you ask him the reason Why he with the rest is not gone':

‘He'll seek you with shame and with sorrow,
He'll smile with affected delight;
He'll swear he leaves London to-morrow,
And only came to it last night!'

He will tell you that he is in general request—that the difficulty is to know where not to go:

‘So odd you should happen to meet him;
So strange, as he's just passing through.'

 

The Season may be said to go to its grave with parting volleys from the sportsmen on the moors. One is fired on ‘the Twelfth,' the other on ‘the First.' The one is associated with grouse, the other with partridges. And Haynes Bayly makes his fashionable matron only too conscious of these facts. ‘Don't talk of September,' she says; ‘a lady

‘Must think it of all months the worst;
The men are preparing already
To take themselves off on the First.'

‘Last month, their attention to quicken,
A supper I knew was the thing;
But now, from my turkey and chicken,
They're tempted by birds on the wing!
They shoulder their terrible rifles
('Tis really too much for my nerves!)
And, slighting my sweets and my trifles,
Prefer my Lord Harry's preserves!'

And she goes on to say:

‘Oh, marriage is hard of digestion,
The men are all sparing of words;
And now 'stead of popping the question,
They set off to pop at the birds.'

 

Life at English country houses has been depicted by more than one poet. Pope, for instance, tells us what happened when Miss Blount left town—how

‘She went, to plain-work, and to purling brooks,
Old-fashion'd halls, dull aunts, and croaking rooks...
(To) divert her eyes with pictures in the fire,
Hum half a tune, tell stories to the squire.'

Lord Lyttelton's ‘beauty in the country' complains that

‘Now with mamma at tedious whist I play,
Now without scandal drink insipid tea;'

while Lady Mary Montagu's ‘bride in the country' deplores the fact that she is

‘Left in the lurch,
Forgot and secluded from view,
Unless when some bumpkin at church
Stares wistfully over the pew.'

Agreeably descriptive of rural pleasures is Lord Chesterfield's ‘Advice to a Lady in Autumn.' Of recent years the subject has been treated by a versifier who has at least a measure of the neatness of Praed, and who enumerates among the typical guests at a country house

‘A sporting parson, good at whist,
A preaching sportsman, good at gateways;'

and, again:

‘A lady who once wrote a book,
And one of whom a book's been written...
One blonde whose fortune is her face,
And one whose face caught her a fortune.'

As for the daily round:

‘We dance, we flirt, we shoot, we ride,
Our host's a veritable Nimrod:
We fish the river's silver tide,'

and so on. There are, of course, the county balls, and the fancy balls, and the private theatricals, and what not, all of them celebrated by the inevitable Praed. It was at the county ball that he saw ‘the belle of the ballroom':

‘There, when the sounds of flute and fiddle
Gave signal sweet in that old hall
Of hands across and down the middle.'

It was to the county ball, as well as to the theatricals at Fustian Hall, that Praed's ‘Clarence' was so prettily invited. As for fancy balls:

‘Oh, a fancy ball's a strange affair!
Made up of silks and leathers,
Light heads, light heels, false hearts, false hair,
Pins, paint, and ostrich feathers.'

 

Of inland watering-places, Bath and Cheltenham have been perhaps most often poetized. Bath found its vates sacer  in the author of the ‘New Bath Guide'; it has rarely found one since; its glories have virtually departed. It was at Cheltenham—

‘Where one drinks one's fill
Of folly and cold water'—

that Praed met his ‘Partner.' And C. S. Calverley has told us how

‘Year by year do Beauty's daughters
In the sweetest gloves and shawls
Troop to taste the Chattenham waters,
And adorn the Chattenham balls.

Nulla non donanda lauru
Is that city: you could not,
Placing England's map before you,
Light on a more favoured spot.'

 

Praed has a poem called ‘Arrivals at a Watering-Place,' but it is not one of the most successful of his efforts. Nor have seaside places in general been made the subject of very excellent verse. Brighton is the one exception. Of that ‘favoured spot,' James Smith, of ‘Rejected Addresses' fame, was, perhaps, the first to write flatteringly. ‘Long,' he declared—

‘Long shalt thou laugh thy enemies to scorn,
Proud as Phœnicia, queen of watering-places!
Boys yet unbreech'd, and virgins yet unborn,
On thy bleak downs shall tan their blooming faces.'

The prophecy, one need not say, has been amply fulfilled. And the poets still conspire to sing the praises of ‘Old Ocean's bauble, glittering Brighton.' Everybody remembers the stirring exhortation of Mortimer Collins:

‘If you approve of flirtations, good dinners,
Seascapes divine, which the merry winds whiten;
Nice little saints, and still nicer young sinners,
Winter at Brighton!'

Nor has Mr. Ashby-Sterry proved himself at all less enthusiastic. Brighton in November, he says, ‘is what one should remember':

‘If spirits you would lighten,
Consult good Doctor Brighton,
And swallow his prescriptions and abide by his decree;
If nerves be weak or shaken,
Just try a week with Bacon;
His physic soon is taken at our London-by-the-Sea.'

 

Something might be said of the delights of foreign sojourn in the Recess; but space fails me. Reference may, however, be made to Mr. Locker's graceful ‘Invitation to Rome' and ‘The Reply' to it, from which I take this typical tribute to the Italian capital:

‘Some girls, who love to ride and race,
And live for dancing, like the Bruens,
Confess that Rome's a charming place—
In spite of all the stupid ruins!'