Life In New York City: Random Gossip 1885 #4

Various Matters of Interest in the Metropolis
THE FRENCH BALLS as they really are differ materially from the wild, fascinating and sinful orgies described by impressionable young men and sensational newspaper writers. In enumerating the features of these extraordinary routs the narrator is apt to allow his imagination to gain too firm a hold on him. To see what a French ball really is one should go to the entertainment at about 11 o'
clock and stay it out to the bitter end without touching a drop of wine or dancing a step. He will find that the proportion of noise, dust, tinsel, heat and discord grows greater and greater as the ball advances until at 5 o'clock the floor is a perfect pandemonium. None of the women wear masks, and if he cares to observe them carefully he will find that out of 2,000 women he cannot pick more than three or four really pretty faces. Nearly all the other faces are hard featured and brazen though lighted up and made more or less attractive by bright eyes and sparkling color, born of the excitement and the wine. One is particularly surprised at the number of oldish women at the French balls. A woman of forty should give up that sort of nonsense. The only pretty women at the French balls keep their faces carefully masked and go away early. They are the respectable contingent, and as far as my observation goes they grow more and more numerous every year. As a rule they are accompanied by their husbands, brothers or some trustworthy friend, and they sit in their houses and gaze over the scene below with the utmost fascination. The probabilities are that they enjoy the ball more than any other class of people there, on the forbidden fruit principle I presume. The amount of real wickedness of the French ball is also greatly exaggerated. To be sure the dancing is of the wildest sort as far as freedom of action goes, but it is only in isolated cases, that it descends to absolute indecency, and that only at the tail end of the ball. They are apt to pall on one after attending them for eight or ten years steadily, and it is the nineteen year old young man who supplies most of the excitement and who is the most enthusiastic patron at the French ball. These masquerades, b y the way, are narrowed down, until there are only three of any consequence.

Balls of the class of the Bal de l'Opera and the Prospect are now considered too common and cheap for even the seediest of rounders. They are what are called "hat check balls", that is anybody can get in by paying $1 for a hat check. The Bal de l'Amitie Society is by no means an exclusive event, though it is of a trifle higher order than the other two. The principal, and in fact the only French ball of the season, is that given by the Cercle Francais de l'Harmonie, a French club which has its headquarters in Clinton Place, and which is the special fad of the chefs, superintendents and proprietors of the big restaurants and cafes. It is a purely social club and gives a ball every year for the purpose of raising a building fund. Within the past few years the fund has grown enormously from the ball receipts and the club proposes shortly to move uptown into a larger building. All of our French citizens turn out in numbers at the Harmonie and it is distinctively the French ball of the season. The Leiderkranz on the other hand, is the German masquerade. The club from which it gets its name has now a magnificent house in Fifty-eighth street, where dances are frequently given, the invitations to which are limited to the members of the club. They turn out in force at the annual masquerade at the Academy, and the Leiderkranz is, I think, a trifle more picturesque in the matter of costumes than the Harmonie, though it has not half the go of the latter ball. The French dancy by instinct, the Germans by instruction. The third of the only three balls is the Arion, which is given at the Madison Square Garden on the eve of Washington's birthday. Though given under the auspices of a semi-German society, the Arion is really the only American ball of the season. Foreign tongues are not heard there to any extent and the arrangements of the ball have become so perfect that it has grown into a great rout, the like of which is not known elsewhere in America. Twenty thousand people attend it and they have been known to drink seventeen thousand bottles of champagne within six hours. Every man and woman of any consequence in New York is sure to be on hand, and as the day after the ball is always a holiday, late hours are invariably the go. By late I mean six or seven o'clock in the morning, when several hundred people may be seen at breakfast at the Brunswick, heavy eyed, sallow and shaky, but still on the turf.

GENERAL BUTLER is still on deck. If there is a harder man to down than the doughty old warrior who was styled the "Cockeyed Goddess of Destiny" by a Boston reporter during the heat of the campaign, he is not to be found at the present moment. General Butler has now become a New Yorker, his law offices are established in the lower part of the town and he has taken his place with Roscoe Conkling, Choate, Evarts and others among the leading lawyers of the city. His success with two suits for damages, one before the United States Supreme Court and the other before the Court of Claims, and his impending suit against Elkins in the United States Circuit Court here, have already set people chatting about General Butler once more. His health is rugged, his spirits undaunted and his good nature is as overwhelming as ever. The time is not far distant when Messrs. Conkling and Butler will be pitted against each other in some great case in New York City, and then we may expect to see the fur fly. At present there is no recognized leader of the workingmen in New York. John Kelly's hold is apparently broken. John Swinton is growing less prominent every day, and such small fry as Justice Schwab and O'Donovan Rossa are not received with any gravity by honest workingmen. There is no doubt that General Butler can build up as great a personal following here as he did in Massachusetts, and he is not a man to sleep quietly after such a defeat as that of last November. This will be the pivotal State four years hence and the issue of the workingmen will be even more prominent then than it is now. About that time look out for General Butler. He is sure to be there.

THE PRODUCTION of "La Juive" at the Metropolitan Opera House and the subsequent representation was signalized by the most extraordinary outpouring of Hebrews of all conditions, sizes, ages and manners than I have ever seen. "The Jewess" is an extraordinary opera. Its story is a masterpiece of dramatic power, and the action is unflagging and exciting from beginning to end. it deals in the main with the love of a nobleman in the year 1400, or thereabouts, for a beautiful Jewess. At that time any Christian who expressed love for one of the prescribed race was instantly put to death in a caldron of boiling oil, as was also the object of his affection. Though the cast was by no means flawless the magnificent singing of Mme. Materna lifted it above the commonplace. Practically the opera was a new one to the majority of New Yorkers. It had not been sung here for so many years that only the gray beards remembered its former representation. Affairs at the Metropolitan Opera House look bright enough for next year. The contract for the artists who at present comprise the company expires on the 15th of February, but they have been extended, through Dr. Damrosch's efforts, to the first of May. All this additional time will not be spent in New York, as seasons of two weeks are to be played in Boston, Chicago, Philadelphia and Cincinnati. The directors are rather jubilant that they will not have to make up a deficiency of more than $25,000 or $30,000. This is so much better than the $200,000 of last season that they feel encouraged enough to vote Dr. Damrosch an advance of $2,000, which will make his salary in all $12,000 a season.

THERE IS A GOOD DEAL OF TALK in social circles about the action of the St. Nicholas Club, in declining to allow members to admit friends to the house who are not members of the club. The St. Nicholas is one of the most exclusive clubs in New York. No one can become a member whose forefathers were not settled in New York prior to 1785 and the utmost strictness is observed in reference to admitting people to the club house. In this the St. Nicholas has followed somewhat the plans of the great London clubs, some of which are so strict that outsiders, no matter what their distinction or station, never penetrate its doors. The theory on which the St. Nicholas works is that the club shall be as much as possible like a home. A man is sure of meeting only those whom he knows under its roof. This theory, though it may at times be pushed too far, is unquestionably the proper tone to be observed in club life. Men who form clubs select their own associates and wish to meet no others under the club roof than those who have passed the ordeal and been admitted as members. Nothing is more annoying to old club men than to have strangers trooping through the rooms, monopolizing the billiard tables, occupying the restaurants and making themselves noisily conspicuous. No better illustration of the evils attending the admission of strangers to a club can be found than that furnished by the Lotos men who are not members of this club frequent it constantly, and brokers who walk up town with a party of friends do not hesitate to lead them all into the club house where they sit at the tables in the basement, as they would in an ordinary saloon.

Club men have come to the conclusion that more clubs are needed in New York. At present there are nearly five hundred men on the list waiting to get in the Union Club, and considerably more than three hundred waiting their turn to get into the Union League. Each man must wait until a vacancy is caused by death, resignation or expulsion, and it will be fifteen years before the last man on the list comes up for election. Pending this delay, it is proposed to establish a club which will take in the thousand or more men who are waiting to get into the larger clubs in New York, to be called the Junior Union or the Junior Union League. There is quite as much anxiety to get into good athletic clubs as in good social clubs, and there are now nearly 400 men waiting for admission to the New York Athletic Club. The Fencers' Club is also in a crowded condition and it may be said, in brief, that every club in New York which offers good, comfortable facilities for members and has first class standing, financially or socially, is at present in a prosperous condition. Club life in America is established now, and men who travel much through the country are enthusiastic over the excellent clubs found in Western cities. In St. Louis, Chicago, and particularly New Orleans and Philadelphia, are to be found clubs that rival in comfort and luxury those of New York. The club men in the smaller cities, too, seem to have more time than New Yorkers, or make more time for the purpose, for they entertain guests who are properly introduced in the most lavish and hospitable manner.

THE GERMAN, or Cotillion, as it is more fashionably called, has attained so wide a degree of popularity this season, that dancing men and girls are literally jumping toward early graves. Every night there is a cotillion of importance at one or the other of the houses of New York's great entertainers, and the public balls at Delmonico's are neglected by society people, who find it impossible to attend all the private entertainments. Such belles as Miss Marion Langdon and Miss Swan or Miss Beckwith are the objects of the fiercest competition by the matrons who give these beautiful dances, as the presence of three or four belles of the season at a cotillion stamps it as a success and draws the dancing men with irresistible power. Formerly there was only one great and recognized cotillion leader in New York society Colonel Delancey Kane. Now his sway is very stoutly interfered with by Mr. Lispenard Stewart, Mr. Thornton, Mr. Cutting and half a dozen young society men, who through the multiplicity of dances and the necessity for so many leaders, have become famous within a few weeks, and get their names in the society columns of the daily papers regularly. It is rather a sad fact that the value of the favors has much to do with the attendance at a cotillion, and so these souvenirs have become more and more costly until a fashionable cotillion now, with its favors of Jewelry, its elaborate supper and other adjuncts, costs a small fortune and the people who have danced a few hours away tumble into their carriages and roll away home, whispering all sorts of unkind things about the woman who spent the fortune for their entertainment.

THE BANG HAS NOW entirely gone out of fashion, and the most fashionably arrayed women draw their hair straight back from their foreheads and pile it in an unpretentious knot on the top of the head. It is an extremely trying fashion, and the girls who have knobby foreheads and heads caved in behind revolt against it. They will all fall in line after a while, though, and the bang which so long sprawled down over the eyes will disappear, to be revived again a hundred years or less hence. I was looking over a bound copy of Harper's Monthly twenty-five or thirty years old a few days ago while rummaging among some old books, and I was particularly struck by the elaborate coiffure of the women in various pictures, including a lot of sketches from London Punch. The fashionable craze then was over the chignon. I wonder how long it will be before these elaborate modes of dressing the hair will be revived again. Waterfalls, switches and like schemes for increasing the apparent yield of hair were fashionable until a few years ago, and I think I have seen women with powdered hair piled up to an immense height on the top of their heads sitting in boxes at the Academy as late as 1875. The era of plainness and modesty has now reached its height. There will be a movement the other way before long.


Website: The History
Article Name: Life In New York City: Random Gossip 1885 #4
Researcher/Transcriber Miriam Medina


Brooklyn Daily Eagle January 25,1885
Time & Date Stamp: