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MARCEL'S LAST MINUET.
ILLUSTRATED BY GEORGE CRUIKSHANK.
Any person who was in the habit of passing through the Ru e Richelieu in the year 1746, would be sure of witnessing a crowd of gay equipages drawn up before the gate of a rather handsome hotel. This line of carriages generally maintained its position from eleven in the morning until an hour after noon. Young noblemen en che nille, their hair half powdered and carelessly turned up with the comb only, jumped out lightly from their elegant phaetons, while footmen in gorgeous liveries opened the carriage doors, and held out their arms rerpectfully to ladies attired in morning dresses, and who were all young, if they were not beautiful. The carriages succeeded one another with extraordinary rapidity, and but few of the visitors prolonged their stay beyond five minutes. If any stranger, who was surprised at this incessant but always regular bustle, inquired the reason, he would be told that the hotel belonged to Mou. sieur Marcel ; or else his inquiry would be answered by a question, and he would be asked if he were a gentleman, or wished to be presented at court.
“ If so," they would add, “ all you have to do is to go up stairs ; it will only cost you twelve francs.” If the singularity of this piece of information induced the stranger to go through with the adventure, he crossed the threshold of the carriage-gate without being stopped by a Swiss's impertinent interrogatory of “ Where are you going, sir ?”
The door was open to everybody; and on entering, you stood in a court neatly paved in mosaic, and surrounded by orange. trees in boxes, and a profusion of foreign shrubs. In the depth of winter a verdant and ever-smiling landscape might be seen on the walls which were painted in that fashion. On the right hand, be. tween two pillars was a wide staircase, over which was spread a rich and thick carpet; and the angles of the landing-places were ornamented with pedestals, on which were placed nymphs, graces, and doves in plaster, after the designs of Bouchardon.
This staircase led to the ante-room of the first floor. A halfopened door faced you, and seemed to invite you to enter. Through it there was a passage into a withdrawing-room, where two footmen received you with much ceremony, and took charge of your hat and
A respectful but expressive sign indicated your place to you, next to the person who had arrived last before you, on a low bench covered with red velvet, unless you preferred to stand, but always in the position assigned to you by priority of time ; for gentleman or lady alike, each individual was bound to maintain his post, and it was very rarely that gallantry prevailed against etiquette. What was most surprising was to notice the silence and decorum observed by the harebrained youths of fashion en déshabille, and the brighteyed and coquettishly-looking dames and damsels; the most lively only hazarded a few whispered words which were answered by a slight smile. It seemed as if they were all apprehensive of disturbing the progress of some mystery or sacred rite.
In fact something extraordinary was actually transpiring in the
It was a
next apartment, the folding.doors of which opened every minute to give egress to one person, and to admit his successor. spacious and magnificent saloon, lighted by three windows with red damask curtains trimmed with gold fringe. The walls were covered with hangings of blue silk, and at intervals, lofty glasses doubled by repetition the glitter of the gilding which ornamented the rich consoles and the exquisitely sculptured tables. A copy of the Hours of Guido was painted on the ceiling, and the variety of colours har. monized well with a sky-blue ground. On the floor, which shone like a mirror, were traced two paralled lines in chalk, commencing at the entrance.door, and ending at a semicircular line in the form of a crescent.
At that spot, seated in a large arm-chair, like a divinity, at the centre of a table, was a grave looking man, in a graceful, although somewhat theatrical attitude ;-it was Marcel, the celebrated dancer. His undoubted talent, and still more, his solemn enthusiasm for his art, had obtained him a reputation which although it might appear absurd to some persons, was not the less widely extended on that account. He excelled more especially in the minuet ; and that dance was his, passion, his glory, his universe. * Ah! sir," said he to a stranger who expressed his astonishment at his enthusiasm,“ the minuet is the encyclopedia of every art, grace, and science.” He had reason in his respect for it, for he had acquired thereby a considerable fortune. He had the entrée of the first seciety in France : no lady who pretended to refinement of manners, no gentleman of rank, elegance, or fashion, could presume to present himself or herself in the beau-monde without having taken lessons of Marcel how to carry the hat or fan properly, or to manage the hoop or sword gracefully.
At the period of which we are speaking, Marcel was about sixty years
age, and was in all the eclat of his renown. He was tall, and rather coarsely built, but his face was striking. Time had not robbed him of the uprightness of his figure, or diminished the elas. ticity of his movements : but he had discontinued his lessons in dancing, as the demands for his instruction were more than he could possibly attend to. All his thoughts were now devoted to a branch of his art, which he correctiy deemed the most elevated and the most useful of all. He gave lessons in bowing, and in the whole class of salutations. And let it not be supposed that this science
a trivial and unimportant one. In those times of etiquette, when ranks and conditions were so strongly defined, the bow was a most important and integral feature in the proper, and necessary, and indispensable knowledge of life. Marcel reckoned in his category of bows and curtsies two hundred and thirty-six for each sex, each one of which expressed the station, and frequently the thoughts of the person who made it, modified by the position of the individual to whom it was addressed. There was the court bow, the city bow, the bow of the great noblemen to the financier, and that of the financier to the courtier ; the bow of the latter when asking a favour of a minister, and that of a statesman when bowing out a suppliant ; the bow of two rivals when disputing about precedence; the obei. sance of a young lady to whom a suitor is introduced, with that of a flirt to a favoured lover, &c. The imagination would be lost in the labyrinth of bows and obeisances of which Marcel held the clue, with: out ever entangling it.
As it was not convenient nor even practicable for him to wait upon all the great personages who summoned him to their presence, he had established the custom of giving lessons in the saloon into which we have introduced the reader. It will be readily conceived that the company that attended there was a select one : the ceremonial there. fore was the same for everybody. A lackey opened the door, and announced each arrival. The party on entering proceeded along the line chalked on the floor, which led to the front of Marcel's armchair. When this was reached, the visitor made the required bow, according to the professor's direction, after which he returned again to the door, and repeated the form. Then making the accustomed bow of leave-taking, he walked down the parallel line to depart, taking care to deposit two crowns, of six francs each, in a silver urn placed for this purpose in a niche by the side of the door. In this manner people were taught to walk and bow, to enter and retire from an apartment, at twelve francs the lesson ; and as about forty francs' worth of lessons was generally sufficient, we can see how little it cost to give the last polish to a good education.
It is true that all the bows were not rated at the same tariff. Those which were entitled presentation bows at court cost twenty louis d’ors : but we must remember how many things were comprised in a lesson of this kind, and such a trcasury of knowledge, with all its accesso. ries, will not be considered exorbitant at six hundred livres. On these great occasions Marcel exhibited all the delicacy of his science with. out reserve. He bestowed the most rigid attention upon the minutest movement; he demonstrated all the suppleness necessary to make an inclination with grace and expression ; how to recede two steps to make a second bow ; and to step backward again to prepare for the third obeisance, in which the party bent himself within a short distance of the ground; after which he raised himself slowly, until still almost forming the figure of a crescent, and stepping backwards, he mixed in the surrounding crowd. At these times Marcel represented the King, and he never failed to assume all the dignity suited to the character, in order, as he said, to train his pupils to meet without discomposure and embarrassment the imposing aspect of royal majesty.
The ladies were instructed with still greater care and solicitude ; for they, he said, had still more need of all the assistance of his art than the other sex. In fact it was no easy task to give a graceful motion to these tall dolls, imprisoned in their long corsets of steel, surrounded by a circumvallation of immense hoops, and almost bending under the elaborate construction of a head-dress two feet high. These obstacles, while they inspired Marcel's genius, fre. quently put his patience to severe tests. On such occasions words of singular energy and strange idiom fell from his lips, and as faith. ful narrators of the manners of the day, we are compelled to admit that the dialect of Marcel did not always correspond with the elegance of his pantomime. It was by no means uncommon for him to say to a duchess, “ For heaven's sake, madame, hold yourself straight; --you waddle like a goose;"_"try and walk a little better than that, or you will be taken for a cook," with other similar compli. ments, which the great ladies took all in good part." His reputation, his age, and his familiarity with the nobility, made Marcel a privileged man, so that he could say what he pleased without giving offence.