Summer Fête, The - Part 1

" WHERE are ye now, ye summer days,
" That once inspired the poet's lays?
" Blest time! ere England's nymphs and swains,
" For lack of sunbeams, took to coals —
" Summers of light, undimmed by rains,
" Whose only mocking trace remains
" In watering-pots and parasols. "

Thus spoke a young Patrician maid,
As, on the morning of that Fête
Which bards unborn shall celebrate,
She backward drew her curtain's shade,
And, closing one half-dazzled eye,
Peeped with the other at the sky —
The important sky, whose light or gloom
Was to decide, this day, the doom
Of some few hundred beauties, wits,
Blues, Dandies, Swains, and Exquisites.

Faint were her hopes; for June had now
Set in with all his usual rigor!
Young Zephyr yet scarce knowing how
To nurse a bud, or fan a bough,
But Eurus in perpetual vigor;
And, such the biting summer air,
That she, the nymph now nestling there —
Snug as her own bright gems recline
At night within their cotton shrine —
Had more than once been caught of late
Kneeling before her blazing grate,
Like a young worshipper of fire,
With hands uplifted to the flame,
Whose glow as if to woo them nigher,
Thro' the white fingers flushing came.

But oh! the light, the unhoped-for light,
That now illumed this morning's heaven!
Up sprung Iänthe at the sight,
Tho' — hark! — the clocks but strike eleven,
And rarely did the nymph surprise
Mankind so early with her eyes.
Who now will say that England's sun
(Like England's self, these spendthrift days)
His stock of wealth hath near outrun,
And must retrench his golden rays —
Pay for the pride of sunbeams past,
And to mere moonshine come at last?

" Calumnious thought! " Iänthe cries,
While coming mirth lit up each glance,
And, prescient of the ball, her eyes
Already had begun to dance:
For brighter sun than that which now
Sparkled o'er London's spires and towers,
Had never bent from heaven his brow
To kiss Firenze's City of Flowers.
What must it be — if thus so fair.
Mid the smoked groves of Grosvenor Square —
What must it be where Thames is seen
Gliding between his banks of green,
While rival villas, on each side,
Peep from their bowers to woo his tide,
And, like a Turk between two rows
Of Harem beauties, on he goes —
A lover, loved for even the grace
With which he slides from their embrace.

In one of those enchanted domes,
One, the most flowery, cool, and bright
Of all by which that river roams,
The Fête is to be held to-night —
That Fête already linked to fame,
Whose cards, in many a fair one's sight
(When looked for long, at last they came,)
Seemed circled with a fairy light; —
That Fête to which the cull, the flower
Of England's beauty, rank and power,
From the young spinster, just come out ,
To the old Premier, too long in —
From legs of far descended gout,
To the last new-mustachioed chin —
All were convoked by Fashion's spells
To the small circle where she dwells,
Collecting nightly, to allure us,
Live atoms, which, together hurled,
She, like another Epicurus,
Sets dancing thus, and calls " the World. "

Behold how busy in those bowers
(Like May-flies in and out of flowers,)
The countless menials, swarming run,
To furnish forth ere set of sun
The banquet-table richly laid
Beneath yon awning's lengthened shade,
Where fruits shall tempt and wines entice,
And Luxury's self, at Gunter's call,
Breathe from her summer-throne of ice
A spirit of coolness over all.

And now the important hour drew nigh,
When. 'neath the flush of evening's sky,
The west-end " world " for mirth let loose,
And moved, as he of Syracuse
Ne'er dreamt of moving worlds, by force
Of four-horse power, had all combined
Thro' Grosvenor Gate to speed their course,
Leaving that portion of mankind,
Whom they call " Nobody, " behind;
No star for London's feasts to-day,
No moon of beauty, new this May,
To lend the night her crescent ray; —
Nothing, in short, for ear or eye,
But veteran belles and wits gone by,
The relics of a past beau-monde,
A world like Cuvier's, long dethroned!
Even Parliament this evening nods
Beneath the harangues of minor Gods,
On half its usual opiate's share;
The great dispensers of repose,
The first-rate furnishers of prose
Being all called to — prose elsewhere.

Soon as thro' Grosvenor's lordly square —
That last impregnable redoubt,
Where, guarded with Patrician care,
Primeval Error still holds out —

Where never gleam of gas must dare
'Gainst ancient Darkness to revolt,
Nor smooth Macadam hope to spare
The dowagers one single jolt; —
Where, far too stately and sublime
To profit by the lights of time,
Let Intellect march how it will,
They stick to oil and watchman still: —
Soon as thro' that illustrious square
The first epistolary bell.
Sounding by fits upon the air,
Of parting pennies rung the knell;
Warned by that tell-tale of the hours.
And by the day-light's westering beam,
The young Iänthe, who, with flowers
Half crowned, had sat in idle dream
Before her glass, scarce knowing where
Her fingers roved thro' that bright hair,
While, all capriciously, she now
Dislodged some curl from her white brow,
And now again replaced it there: —
As tho' her task was meant to be
One endless change of ministry —
A routing-up of Loves and Graces,
But to plant others in their places.

Meanwhile — what strain is that which floats
Thro' the small boudoir near — like notes
Of some young bird, its task repeating
For the next linnet music-meeting?
A voice it was, whose gentle sounds
Still kept a modest octave's bounds,
Nor yet had ventured to exalt
Its rash ambition to B alt ,
That point towards which when ladies rise,
The wise man takes his hat and — flies.
Tones of a harp, too, gently played,
Came with this youthful voice communing;
Tones true, for once, without the aid
Of that inflictive process, tuning —
A process which must oft have given
Poor Milton's ears a deadly wound;
So pleased, among the joys of Heaven,
He specifies " harps ever tuned. "
She who now sung this gentle strain
Was our young nymph's still younger sister —
Scarce ready yet for Fashion's train
In their light legions to enlist her,
But counted on, as sure to bring
Her force into the field next spring.

The song she thus, like Jubal's shell,
Gave forth " so sweetly and so well, "
Was one in Morning Post much famed,
From a divine collection, named,
" Songs of the Toilet " — every Lay
Taking for subject of its Muse,
Some branch of feminine array,
Some item, with full scope, to choose,
From diamonds down to dancing shoes;
From the last hat that Herbault's hands
Bequeathed to an admiring world,
Down to the latest flounce that stands
Like Jacob's Ladder — or expands
Far forth, tempestuously unfurled.

Speaking of one of these new Lays,
The Morning Post thus sweetly says: —
" Not all that breathes from Bishop's lyre.
" That Barnett dreams, or Cooke conceives,
" Can match for sweetness, strength, or fire,
" This fine Cantata upon Sleeves,
" The very notes themselves reveal
" The cut of each new sleeve so well;
" A flat betrays the Imbecilles ,
" Light fugues the flying lappets tell;
" While rich cathedral chords awake
" Our homage for the Manches d'Éveque. "

'T was the first opening song the Lay
Of all least deep in toilet-lore,
That the young nymph, to while away
The tiring-hour, thus warbled o'er: —
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