Sunday, July 20, 2014

The Belle of the Ball
 I love unearthing old, mostly forgotten poems. This one, titled "The Belle of the Ball," by W. Mackworth Praed (1802--1839) is a affectionate poke at young love which finds its start on the dance floor.
"The belle of the ball," a.k.a. the most attractive woman at a social gathering. 
Excerpts of a Poem, With Illustrations, For Your Amusement
posted by Linore Rose Burkard  

  The Belle of the Ball

 Author: W. Mackworth Praed  (1802-1839)

I saw her at the county ball;

  There, when the sounds of flute and fiddle
Gave signal sweet in that old hall
  Of hands across and down the middle,
Hers was the subtlest spell by far
  Of all that sets young hearts romancing:
She was our queen, our rose, our star;
  And then she danced,—O Heaven! her dancing.

Dark was her hair; her hand was white;
  Her voice was exquisitely tender;
Her eyes were full of liquid light;
  I never saw a waist so slender;  

She talked of politics or prayers,
  Of Southey’s prose or Wordsworth’s sonnets,
Of danglers or of dancing bears,
  Of battles or the last new bonnets;

...Through sunny May, through sultry June,
  I loved her with a love eternal;
I spoke her praises to the moon,      
  I wrote them to the Sunday Journal.
My mother laughed; I soon found out
  That ancient ladies have no feeling:
My father frowned; but how should gout
  See any happiness in kneeling?

And she was flattered, worshipped, bored;
  Her steps were watched, her dress was noted;
Her poodle-dog was quite adored;
  Her sayings were extremely quoted.
She laughed,—and every heart was glad,
  As if the taxes were abolished;
She frowned,—and every look was sad,
  As if the opera were demolished

She smiled on many just for fun,—
  I knew that there was nothing in it;
I was the first, the only one,
  Her heart had thought of for a minute.
I knew it, for she told me so,
  In phrase which was divinely moulded;
She wrote a charming hand,—and O,
  How sweetly all her notes were folded!

Our love was most like other loves,—
  A little glow, a little shiver,
A rosebud and a pair of gloves,
  And “Fly Not Yet,” upon the river;
Some jealousy of some one’s heir,
  Some hopes of dying broken-hearted;
A miniature, a lock of hair,
  The usual vows,—and then we parted.

We parted: months and years rolled by;
  We met again four summers after.
Our parting was all sob and sigh,
  Our meeting was all mirth and laughter!
For in my heart’s most secret cell
  There had been many other lodgers;
And she was not the ball-room’s belle,
  But only Mrs.—Something—Rogers!

While the tone of the poem is jocular,  there were plenty of people who were willing to insist that dancing, particularly close dancing such as for a waltz, was a decidedly dangerous pastime. Perhaps they would approve of the following book title: 


Following a few more illustrations of nineteenth dancing or dancers, just for fun. 


The number of guides for dancing and ballroom etiquette which were available were legion. 
Fancy Ball Dress 1820

Sitting one out
Finally, let us not leave without a nod to our favorite twentieth century ballroom dancers:

Do you like to dance? Ever attend a costume ball? Leave a comment and I'll choose one winner to receive a free copy of my Regency romance, Before the Season Ends. Do leave your full email address so I can contact you.

Once, at a Jane Austen weekend gathering which culminated with a dinner and fancy costume dance, I took scads of pictures of the wonderful ensembles people wore. Next month I'll do a post using many of them. 

Linore Rose Burkard is best known for historical regency novels with Harvest House Publishers, including Before the Season Ends, the award-winning The House in Grosvenor Square, and, The Country House Courtship.

Linore teaches workshops for writers with Greater Harvest Workshops in Ohio, is a homeschooling mother of five, and is currently working on a YA novel. Keep up with Linore by subscribing to her free newsletter


  1. I've never attended a ball and don't think I'm graceful enough to do any kind of ballroom dancing. I'm not sure how they remembered every single step to all the dances.

    Thanks for the lovely poem and images. Please don't enter me as I have all your Regency books. Highly recommended!


    1. Thank you so much, J. Grace. Nice to meet one of my readers. :)
      I think they memorized all the steps by one method and one method only: practice, practice, practice! If you think about it, without electronics they had more hours to fill than we do, today.
      Thanks for commenting!

  2. I was too much of a tomboy to like dancing, and thus never went to a dance, other than my prom. And even then, my friends and I just sat around talking and eating. I really enjoyed all the pretty pictures. I can't imagine having to wear those big skirts all the time, but they are pretty to look at.

    1. Hi, Vickie--I suppose sitting around with one's friends just talking and eating isn't too bad, after all! We don't hear much about it, but there must have been a lot of nervous young dancers back then; as J.Grace commented, so many steps tp remember! But dancing is fun. When I was in kindergarten, they actually taught us the Virginia Reel ( a form of a country dance popular during the regency). I loved it. Wish I still knew how to do it, but it takes a group.

  3. Great poem and post, Linore! Love the pics, too!

    1. Hi, Carrie! Thank you and nice to see you here. ;) I like that I'm not alone in enjoying old illustrations!

  4. I would've loved to dance - they seemed so fun and socially exciting!! I have never attended one but back then it had to be so much fun! I love old movies that have dancers or dancing cause it seems so elegant. would love to be in the drawing to win your book - thanks for the fun post!! truckredford(at)gmail(dot)com

    1. Thanks, Eliza! I love the elegance of those stately dances, too. Good luck in the drawing. ;)

  5. Hi Linore! I've never been to a costume ball but have always wanted to go to one, or a masquerade ball of some sort, since I first saw Gone With the Wind when I was 11! I've never been a great dancer and since two episodes of temporary paralysis due to MS people would rather I stay far away from the dance floor! I may not dance but I take great joy in watching others dance when you can see they truly love to dance! Besides, honestly, I've always wanted to get dressed up in my own fancy ball gown even if only for one night...I mean, what girl doesn't!?!? Thanks for the chance to win a copy of Before the Season Ends!

    kam110476 at gmail dot com

    1. Hi Kam,
      I replied to your comment days ago but now I see it never posted. :( Sorry.
      I'm sorry you don't get to dance, but I hope you do so often in your dreams! :)
      Good luck in the drawing and many blessings to you and your health.

  6. I enjoyed the poem and pictures you have shared, Linore. I did attend school dances, but have never been to a costume ball. I think ballroom dancing is lovely and beautiful to watch.

    texaggs2000 at gmail dot com

    1. When I attended the costume ball at the Jane Austen event, I did not have a costume, so I had to sit out and just watch. (My costume wasn't completed in time.) They ARE still fun, however, even just watching! So I agree with you on that. Good luck in the drawing!

    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  7. I love everything about this post! thanks so much! Mary Lou K

  8. Loved this post. Most of the ball gowns are beautiful, but a little cumbersome for today's dancers. I loved the jitter-bug era, and although I can't dance a lick, I can't help but move my body when I hear certain kinds of music. I never took to dancing for several reasons. One being I had no real interest in it. I'd rather go bowling or to a ball game with my dad. The second is that my grandmother would have strung me alive because Baptists girls DID NOT dance with men, Baptist or not. I attended our Senior Prom, but after a few bad steps, my date and I sat the evening out visiting with our friends. Then After failing miserably at ballet, I decided dancing wasn't for me, but I loved to watch Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. I loved movie musicals with all their dancing and singing, but I knew dancing was for me to watch and not to do. My dance with our youngest son at his wedding was hilarious and embarrassing, and I vowed never to do that again. :)

  9. Oh, I understand, Martha. It boggles my mind to think that ALL girls were expected to dance, and to know how to dance well, back in the day. They MUST have spent many hours practicing the steps, dancemaster or no. I'm glad you enjoyed the post, and thanks for letting me know!

  10. MARY LOU--You are the winner of my book, BEFORE THE SEASON ENDS. I hope you enjoy it! You will be contacted by a site administrator who will get your mailing address so I can send it out to you. Congratulations and thanks everyone for entering the drawing. :)