Certainly it’s true that when you’re dancing “Mr. Beveridge’s Maggot” or “The Duke of Kent’s Waltz”—two traditional English country dances of the early 19th century—it is natural to ask: “How the hell did I get here?”
-- Ted Scheinman, in "Cosplaying Jane Austen", The Atlantic, July 22, 2017
I couldn't agree more with the sentiment; somehow, I regularly find myself dancing what people fondly refer to as "Mr. Beveridge's Maggot" and/or "The Duke of Kent's Waltz" and I invariably wonder, in a sort of scholarly despair, just how I ended up in that situation. In my case, however, it's generally because I am surrounded by people who are under the delusion that these are, in fact "traditional English country dances of the early 19th century."
Normally, I simply avoid discussing this topic outside academic circles, because people can be remarkably resistant to historical evidence when it interferes with their pleasant fantasies. But when this misinformation turns up in the virtual pages of The Atlantic, which I read regularly and generally have some respect for, I feel like it might be useful to respond in a more public way than just a note in the comments.
I don't delude myself that they're going to issue any corrections.
Let's dispose of the easy one first:
"Mr. Beveridge's Maggot" is a dance from 1695.
Now, most people with at least a moderately decent education consider the year 1695 to be part of the late 17th century. I'd even go so far as to call it a truth universally acknowledged.
Apparently The Atlantic either doesn't bother with basic fact-checking or has an unusually expansive definition of the 19th century.
There is nothing - nothing - that can be done to make "Mr. Beveridge's Maggot" into a 19th century dance, traditional or otherwise, any more than one can make William III (left) into a 19th century monarch. Any minimally-informed scholar would immediately recognize that the lovely, screen-filling move in which lines of four dancers march up the room together is not a nineteenth century dance figure. So if you see it in a dance, that's a rather significant clue that what you are seeing is not a nineteenth century dance.
On top of that basic problem, I will also point out that the versions of "Mr. Beveridge's Maggot" danced in the screen versions of Emma and Pride & Prejudice are not entirely accurate to the original 17th century instructions (first printed in the 9th edition of The Dancing Master, published by John Playford), either. So they are not really even traditional 17th century dances. They're modern mashups designed to look good on screen. Good filmmaking, bad history. And yes, it's bad history that is, unfortunately, all over the internet. Including in The Atlantic!
Pro tip: Just because something is shown in a movie or repeated frequently online does not make it into a fact.
So what about "The Duke of Kent's Waltz"?
Well, that's not a "traditional early 19th century dance" either, but the background to that statement is significantly more complicated.
When people talk about a "traditional dance", they generally mean a fixed set of figures, with a specific name, often attached to a specific piece of music. But when discussing country dance of the early nineteenth century, that whole model mostly flies out the window.
As I've blogged about a number of times, at great length, the model for early nineteenth century country dance was not a fixed choreography with a name and an attached tune. That is a modern model. In Jane Austen's era, the overwhelming majority of country dances were generic sets of figures with no particular name which could be attached to whichever tune the dancers (specifically, the first lady or first couple in the dance set) wanted.
So the whole concept of a dance called "The Duke of Kent's Waltz" is, basically, ahistorical. Just saying "a dance called 'The Duke of Kent's Waltz'" suggests that someone is operating on the underlying assumption that 21st century models apply two hundred years backward in time.
That...is not good history.
Were there any "traditional" dances in the modern sense in the early nineteenth century? There were a few -- a very few -- tunes said to have such traditional figures attached that it would not be acceptable to dance any others to them. This was so unusual as to make them worth noting specially. But (1) that does not appear to have stopped dancing masters and music publishers from offering other figures for those tunes, and (2) "The Duke of Kent's Waltz" was not one of them.
So what is "The Duke of Kent's Waltz"? Is there any sense in which it can be said to be a "traditional dance"?
Actually, there is. Just not a traditional early nineteenth century one.
To start with, "The Duke of Kent's Waltz" is a piece of music. Was it a traditional piece? A popular piece? There is no evidence that it was. Rather the opposite, in fact. Popular tunes were printed and reprinted over and over again by different publishers. They left substantial paper trails. Some are still popular today. But as far as I can tell, the familiar "The Duke of Kent's Waltz" tune appeared only once.
Can I prove that?
No; it's impossible to prove a negative. But between my own collection and databases like the Dance Figures Index: English Country Dances 1650-1833 (DFIE), I have access to more than 25,000 published sets of tunes and dance figures. Out of those 25,000-plus, the tune "The Duke of Kent's Waltz" appears...once. That strongly suggests that it was not particularly popular or even particularly well-known.
The source in which it appeared was originally difficult to identify, since it was missing its title page. Recent scholarship suggests that it is one of Cahusac's Annual Collections. Cahusac was a prolific publisher of country dance music books in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries and had different series of collections of country dance music books, including annual sets of twelve and twenty-four dances. I've seen the specific book including "The Duke of Kent's Waltz" variously cited as 1800, 1801, and 1802. Annoyingly, while I have scans or photos of fourteen different Cahusac collections ranging from 1764 to 1817, I don't have the ones from the correct series for those specific years, so I can't check the date myself.
There do seem to have been a couple of other tunes called "The Duke of Kent's Waltz" or "The Duke of Kent's Favorite Waltz", but they were different tunes that just happened to share a name. This is not the only example of a title being reused; the name "Trip to Paris" was given to at least seven different tunes. And the other "Duke of Kent's Waltz" tunes were just as rare as the one under discussion here.
If the tune was not, in its era, traditional or popular, what about the figures? Could they be considered traditional in some way?
Dance figures in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century were often not particularly original. The same sets of figures appeared over and over again, sometimes in the same book, attached to different pieces of music. Sometimes the same figures appeared with different tunes on facing pages in the same book, or multiple times in the same book. The shorter and simpler the figures, the more likely they were to appear frequently. Calling them by the name of the tunes they appeared with is a misunderstanding of period practice; the names went with the music, not the figures.
The figures that appeared with "The Duke of Kent's Waltz" were not an enormously popular combination, but I scanned through a couple of thousand tune/figure combinations and did manage to find some matches.
Here are the figures in question:
Right hands across left hands back :|:
lead down the middle up again Allemand :|:
& swing Corners :|:
And here are the other tunes with which they appeared, with sources, dates, and time signatures:
"Haran’s Waltz" (3/8)
Twenty-Four new Country Dances for the Year 1799 (T. Skillern)
"David’s Waltz" (3/8)
Cahusac’s Annual Collection of Twelve Favorite Country Dances for the Year 1802
"The Scotch Whim" (9/8)
Cahusac’s Annual Collection of Twenty-Four Favorite Country Dances for the Year 1804
"Carlton House" (2/4)
Cahusac’s Annual Collection of Twenty-Four Country Dances for the Year 1807
"Country Dance" (6/8)
La Belle Assemblée, December, 1810.
"Love, Port and Sherry" (6/8)
Cahusac’s Collection of Favorite Country Dances for the Year 1817
As you can see, the figures appeared in several different Cahusac collections over the years, as well as in a couple of other sources, attached to tunes not only in waltz (3/8) time, but also in 9/8, 2/4, and 6/8. Not only are these figures not "The Duke of Kent's Waltz", they aren't even necessarily done to waltz music.
The figures printed in La Belle Assemblée in 1810 with the oh-so-generically-named tune "Country Dance" were credited to London dancing master Thomas Wilson, who also published several books of figures under the name Treasures of Terpsichore which gave the names of suitable tunes but not the music. Wilson reused this set of figures several times in the Treasures of Terpsichore books. Here are the names of tunes he matched them with:
In the 1809 edition:
In the 1810 edition:
"Miss Zoffani Weippert’s Waltz"
In the 1811 Supplement:
"Mrs. Wilson’s Waltz"
In the 1816 second edition:
I have the tunes "Ap Shenkin" and "Major Spicer" in other sources; both are in 6/8. The other tunes Wilson cites I don't have copies of immediately to hand, but the waltzes may be assumed to be in 3/8 or 3/4 time.
There are a few other tunes cited in the DFIE as having matching figures published with them, but the DFIE's method of coding figures does not distinguish between certain very similar ones, and for at least three of the tunes cited there ("Brighton Waltz", "Mrs. Casey", and "Turnpike Gate") the figures given are not exact matches. For "Mrs. Wybrow's Waltz", also listed as a matching figure, I have a scan of the source cited, but that tune does not appear in it. From the way that source appears in the database, I suspect it may be titled or dated erroneously.
To summarize: from the list I produced from a casual flip through just the information I had handy, these figures appeared with at least seven pieces of music (counting "The Duke of Kent's Waltz") and were also listed by Thomas Wilson as suitable for at least six others. One other possible match is not currently checkable by me, though I plan to look into it in the future.
Thirteen or fourteen may seem like a lot of matches, but by period standards, it really isn't. Very popular sets of figures might appear with dozens of tunes. My survey was not comprehensive, but it was large enough to be reasonably representative. It wouldn't surprise me if there were other matches for these particular figures, but it would surprise me if there were very many.
I did notice, while flipping through sources, that the combination "right hands across, left hands back, down the middle up again, something" was a popular combination, though the "something" was more likely to be a poussette, a right and left, or an allemande alone than the allemande/swing corners combination.
What all of this adds up to is that "The Duke of Kent's Waltz", as it is thought of today, is not a "traditional early 19th century dance". A more accurate description of the historical combination of tune and figures would be that it was an uncommon variation of a moderately popular generic sequence of figures danced to a tune so obscure that relatively few people would have known of it even in the early nineteenth century. I'd bet money that more people have danced to that music in the last forty-odd years than did in Jane Austen's entire lifetime.
That is, of course, not nearly as romantic as being a "traditional early 19th century dance", but it has the virtue of actually being supported by evidence, rather than romantic fantasy.
It also presupposes that the figures as danced today are an accurate reconstruction of the historical ones...which, sadly, they are not.
Discussing the problems with the Simons version (there are at least half a dozen) would be an entire other post, which I do plan to write at some point. But for now, let me just note that the figures attached to the dance today owe as much to Simons as to the original source, and are very much in the 20th century style of country dance. It has become a traditional dance, sure, over the last forty-odd years, but it is a traditional late twentieth-century dance.
So, to revise my statement still further:
"The Duke of Kent's Waltz" danced today is a traditional late twentieth-century dance, with figures heavily modified from an uncommon variation of a moderately popular generic sequence of Austen-era figures and danced to an early nineteenth-century tune so obscure that very few people would have known of it even in the early nineteenth century.
Sorry to burst the romantic bubble.
By way of epilogue:
I've wondered for years why "The Duke of Kent's Waltz" ended up so popular among Jane Austen fans. It has no special connection to Austen. As far as I know, it has never been used on screen in an Austen adaptation. And yet, it turns up at Jane Austen themed events across the world. England. America. Australia. Russia. Why?
Well, let's look back at its modern history.
It appears that the tune "The Duke of Kent's Waltz" was rediscovered around 1970 by English dancer A. "Bert" Simons. He found it in the British Museum, in a music book missing its title page. As noted above, later scholarship suggests the book was a Cahusac collection, though I haven't personally verified that.
Simons created his own interpretation of the dance instructions and publicized the combination. It became popular among modern English country dancers, and eventually was published in the book Kentish Hops (1990), which collected a lot of Simons' work and was accompanied by a cassette of recordings to dance to. I actually have both the book and the cassette.
Simons' interpretation, along with a facsimile of the original publication (left, click to enlarge) was also published in The Playford Ball (1990; second edition 1994), which collected over a hundred popular modern English country dance interpretations and became a go-to source for new callers, spreading the dances it included widely. Since then, the tune has been recorded numerous times, including in Austen-themed collections like The Pride & Prejudice Collection. Presumably, it made its way from the modern English country dance community into Austen fandom and stuck.
And that, my friends, is how we got here.