Lord Salisbury’s Annual Ball
Aristocracy Dancing with the Servants— Annual Abjuration of Pride
When the long table is surrounded by women glittering with the diamonds so profusely worn, when the magnificent gold and silver plate lends its massive splendor to the wealth of crystal, flowers and fruit, the lofty apartments in the white chaste light involuntarily recalls the gorgeous scenes painted by Veronese. The liveries worn by the twenty tall footmen of the noble are at once simple and tasteful—black coat, blue breeches and white waistcoat, and silken hose gartered with silver. The servants’ ball takes place in the winter dining-room, decorated with some flowers and greenery and provided with a small orchestra. Refreshments are adjoining apartment and a stand-up supper in the marble hall.
English aristocracy glories in this annual abjuration of pride and prejudice and on the truly republican instincts which permits, nay commands, a Duchess to dance with her cook or coachman, and encourages her daughters to waltz with a footman. Lady Salisbury, after performing a similar act, observed to a foreigner; “If you want to see true democracy, here it is.” This sentiment is not sincere, and does not deceive either the one who emits it or the recipients of these honors. The upper and under servants preserve a stifled and embarrassed, almost an antagonistic, attitude as long as their superiors are present, and eye the quality with ill-concealed distrust. They flatten themselves stiffly against the wall while Lady Salisbury passes with her guests, and addresses a word to each before the dancing commences.
There is more of feudal pomp than hearty equality in the custom. The French chef, to whom the visitor was rather ostentatiously introduced by the son of the house, admitted that he had been several years in the establishment, and liked England well enough. Then he suddenly and almost angrily exclaimed: “But I did my duty in 1870. I served in the Carabineers, and am not one of them.” He was evidently not won over by the mock favor, and rather resented it than otherwise, as an added display of superiority and a showing off of the number of retainers and generosity of employers. The upper servants themselves stand on their dignity, and rarely condescend to dance with the underlings, this being considered an infringement of domestic etiquette.
The real enjoyment only begins after midnight, when the hostess retires with her friends. With the exception of the ladies’ maids, the women are absurdly and grotesquely attired—cotton velvet, red gloves, short muslins being common features. Each servant is authorized to issue two invitations. No control is placed on the duration of the revels, the housekeeper and head butler assuming the functions of Master of the Ceremonies: but the next morning all must return to their respective duties, and no trace remains of the festivities of the night, while the whole palatial establishment of Hatfield resumes the even, aristocratic tenor of its way. —London Correspondent, New York Sun, 1886
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