Wednesday, December 13, 2017

The Gay Season

       Yes, there probably will always be a gay season so long as society holds together by its present structure, and even those who have and desire to have nothing to do with it must witness more or less of it and be aware of it, however unwillingly. Artistically considered, it has a certain value, if only as  showing the possibilities of beauty attainable under the present conditions of favorable life. We need not go to the ancients in these times for the ideal of loveliness in the outward forms of social mingling. Some daylight sacrificial festival by the blue waters of the Egean, with torches turning pale in the sunshine, with the flower-decked and filleted victim, the dancing youths and maidens under the festoons of their floral ropes and wreaths, may have been more remotely poetical; a Roman supper may have been more voluptuous; a Pompeiian revel may have been more wild and wanton; but a mask of the gods could hardly be more beautiful than are some of the nightly entertainments of the gay season of the present. Winter changed to summer, night into softly glowing day, bare walls to bowers of bloom out of which gleam statues like the gods just alit, and pictures like dreams of a yet lovelier life all this constitutes an enchanted background for the throngs that troop across it, the dark shadows of one class of the participants in the pleasure throwing out all the brilliance of the other portion with its rosy flesh and glistening hair and starry eyes and curving outlines, the brilliance, moreover, of the material in which this beauty robes itself, to whose lustrous wealth neither the dreams of poets nor the facts of antiquity ever approached; for laces and silks and velvets, at any rate, are of the modern world, and the substance in which poets clothe their dreams of beauty is filmy and vaporous stuff as thin as moonshine. And meanwhile, if the gay season is an artistic success, wherever it kindles the wit in any degree and puts a sparkle into conversation, it is intellectual success as well. Those who admire and excuse this series of festive pageants declare that there is another view of it worthy of a pause, and that is a consideration of its beneficent nature in our social economy, in the part of the good Samaritan which it so undoubtedly plays. Does this seem an impossible or Quixotic view? Give, then, but a glance to the army of workers glad and thankful to be workers whom this gay season calls to the front; not merely housemaid and cook, coachman and groom, milliner and seamstress, but the multitude of those who produce and prepare the raw material which these ultimately handle, the multitude of underlings who assist them all, till the work ramifies through a thousand far-extended avenues, so that some single ball not only calls into requisition the forces of market-men, the finest fancies of florists and designers, the running of the steamships that import its novelties, but saves from starvation and beggary the denizen of many an attic.
       The gay season may in itself as those who roll to swell its triumph, with plume and jewel, with epaulet or train, forget the existence of any others less fortunate than themselves be called as heartless as any other great machine; but, like most great machines, it does unconsciously a tremendous work, and, with the industries it necessitates, tides over the dark and cruel winter months, when there is little hope and less joy to those who otherwise might have no season at all. May there always be a gay season, then, its upholders exclaim net too gay a season, not a mad revel, but a brief and brilliant  tournament of youth and beauty! May the early years enjoy it, and the advancing years look on well pleased with the pageant ! May it charm for the passing moment, but not captivate one instant beyond its proper power; and, while its light burns ever so brightly, may it not put out the sun! For, after all, there are those of good reason who totally disapprove of the extravagance and the waste of time. The philosophers and the political economists deny that there is any advantage in the expenditure of wealth after this fashion, assuring us that only injury is wrought thereby.
       Mr. Ruskin says that as long as there is cold and nakedness in the land, splendor of dress is a crime. "As long as there are any," he says, "who have no blankets for their beds, and no rags for their bodies, so long it is blanket-making and tailoring we must set people to work at not lace."
       Society is of course a charming thing: the reunion of kindred souls in scenes made as lovely as artifice can make them ; people always at their best, and conscious of it; with every enjoyment to pass the time pleasure, excitement, admiration, the dance, the opera, the theatre, the drive. But it is life in too concentrated a form, like the nourishment where nothing goes to waste, and which, while it enriches the blood, causes the atrophy of certain of the organs. The experiment having been tried of feeding guinea-pigs with sugar alone, it was found that the little creatures lived a short space of time, and then those that did not die became blind. Too long and too undiluted a diet of gay life would be no better for the soul than the undiluted saccharine matter was for the unfortunate animal; and it is a merciful arrangement that, after the faculties have received sufficient stimulus and the senses sufficient enjoyment, puts an end to it all with the total and arbitrary change of habit that the Lenten season brings. Then the swift rout is succeeded by the quiet life, the nightly revel by the morning walk, the call of charity, the household duty, the neglected book, and the performance of all those little acts postponed when the days only waited on the nights to bring the next one round. Then one has time to recall the fact that there are those less favored by fate than one's self; then one has time to put one's self in one's enemies' place and see what their justification may be ; time to look over one's own life, and learn what has been amiss, to make new resolutions, and indulge them a little while before beginning to break them ; then there is time to enter on the search for those less favored ones, if they are not at the door, and to do what may be done toward striking the balance in this life that death will strike at last when the earth is cast upon one. 

Victorian's had to observe etiquette before entering
 into society. The "Gay Season" refers in this case,
 to the season of being introduced to society for 
arranged marriages.