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April 15, 2019


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A nightcap cotillion is apparently real!

I had my doubts, especially since it earned an illustration in the book even before the wig mishap.

From “Dancing Amongst the Germans” by A Correspondent Abroad, in Sargent's New Monthly Magazine, April 1843, New-York, Vol. 1. No. IV, pg. 165:

“The ball generally opens with a quadrille: a German cotillion, which lasts about two hours, more or less, succeeds, and then a waltz. This German cotillion is the most beautifully interesting of dances. There is a never-ending variety of figures. I have now danced it at six different balls, and the figures were not alike at any two. At the festival on New Year's eve, of which I speak, it was particularly amusing and not ungraceful. First, they placed four chairs in the centre of the room: four gentlemen then seated their partners on these chairs: each gentleman presented his partner with a beautiful little lantern and a ruffled nightcap. Then they each led two other gentlemen up to these partners, making a pantomime gesture, by which the lady was requested to select the one with whom she chose to waltz. Each lady in making her choice, adorns the head of the gentleman accepted with a nightcap, and presents a lantern to the gentleman refused. These rejected suitors light their lanterns, and as the triumphant fair ones with their favored night-capped partners whirl around the room, dance after them, shedding light from the lanterns upon their airy steps. You cannot imagine the ludicrous effect this pantomime, produces nor the peals of merriment that resound from every side, only subsiding to burst forth afresh as long as the dance continues.”

This magazine account has a lantern instead of an umbrella, and there are four chairs for ladies instead of one, but the essentials are there.

In Love's Provocations, the dance also has the comic element of If I Didn’t Know It Was High-Class, I Would Think It Was Uncouth:

“Mr. Temple had explained the dance to us, and it was so extraordinary, that (I dare say) if we had not known that he had really seen it danced at an Earl’s house, we might have considered it rather a vulgar affair. But, as it was, we thought it very laughable; and being in high spirits—as is always the case, indeed, after a ball supper—we agreed to dance it.”

Oliver Goldsmith used that theme earlier in his book The Vicar of Wakefield (1766). Two “ladies of the town” visit the naïve vicar’s family in Chapter 9:

“The two ladies threw my girls quite into the shade; for they would talk of nothing but high life, and high lived company; with other fashionable topics, such as pictures, taste, Shakespear, and the musical glasses. ‘Tis true they once or twice mortified us sensibly by slipping out an oath; but that appeared to me as the surest symptom of their distinction, (tho’ I am since informed that swearing is perfectly unfashionable.) Their finery, however, threw a veil over any grossness in their conversation. My daughters seemed to regard their superior accomplishments with envy; and whatever appeared amiss was ascribed to tip-top quality breeding.”

All this, despite the vicar’s reflection earlier in the evening:

“After the dance had continued about an hour, the two ladies, who were apprehensive of catching cold, moved to break up the ball. One of them, I thought, expressed her sentiments upon this occasion in a very coarse manner, when she observed, that by the living jingo, she was all of a muck of sweat.”

(SPOILER ALERT—or not: They are not actually high-born ladies, but impostors involved in a set up for a nefarious scheme. This is discovered MUCH later in the book.)

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