A description of a drum.
BUT I hasten to describe an event, which engrossed the attention of this accomplished family for a fortnight, and was matter of conversation to them for a year afterwards. Lady Frippery, in imitation of other ladies of rank and quality, was ambitious of having a drum; though the smallness of her lodgings might well have excused her from attempting that modish piece of vanity.
A drum is at present the highest object of female vain-glory; the end whereof is to assemble as large a mob of quality as can possibly be contained in one house; and great are the honours paid to that lady, who can boast of the largest crowd. For this purpose, a woman of superior rank calculates how many people all the rooms in her house laid open can possibly hold, and then sends about two months beforehand 'Among the people one knows,' to bespeak such a number as she thinks will fill them. Hence great emulations arise among them, and the candidates for this honour sue as eagerly for visitors, as candidates for parliament do for votes at an election: For as it sometimes happens that two ladies pitch upon the same evening for raising a riot, 'tis necessary they should beat up in time for volunteers; otherwise they may chance to be defrauded of their numbers, and one of them lie under the ignominy of collecting a mob of a hundred only, while the other has the honour of assembling a well-dressed rabble of three or four hundred; which of course breaks the heart of that unfortunate lady, who comes off with this immortal disgrace.
Now as the actions of people of quality are sure of being copied, hence it comes to pass that ladies of inferior rank, resolving to be in fashion, take upon them likewise to have drums in imitation of their superiors: Only there is this difference between the two orders, that the higher call nothing but a crowd a drum, whereas the lower often give that name to the commonest parties, and for the sake of honour call an ordinary visit as assembly.
This was the case with Lady Frippery; her acquaintance in town was very small, and it seemed improbable that she could assemble above a dozen people at most, without making any allowance for colds, head-aches, vapours, hysteric fits, fevers upon the spirits, and other female indispositions; yet still she resolved to have a drum, and the young lady seconded her Mamma's inclinations so vehemently, that Sir Thomas was obliged to comply.
From the moment this great event was resolved on, all their conversations turned upon it, and it was pleasant to hear the schemes and contrivances they had about it. Their first and principal care was to secure Lady Bab Frightful, the chief of Lady Frippery's acquaintance, and whose name was to give a lustre to the assembly. Now Lady Bab being one of the quality, it was possible she might have a previous engagement, unless she was taken in time; and therefore a card was dispatched to her in the first place, to bespeak her for such an evening; and it was resolved, that if any cross accident prevented her coming, new measures should be taken, and the drum be deferred till another night. Lady Bab returned for answer, that she would wait on Lady Frippery, if her health permitted. This dubious kind of message puzzled them in the strangest manner, and was worse than a denial; for without Lady Bab it was impossible to proceed, without Lady Bab the assembly would make no figure, and yet they were obliged to run the hazard of her not coming, in consequence of her answer. Every day therefore, they sent to enquire after her health, and their hopes rose or fell according to the word that was brought them; till on the day before the drum was to be held, a most calamitous piece of news arrived, that Lady Bab was disabled by her Surgeon, who in cutting her toe-nail, had made an incision in her flesh; yet still she promised to be with them, if it was possible for her to hobble abroad. 'Tis impossible to describe the damp, which this fatal message struck into the whole family; but they were obliged to submit with patience, and as a glimpse of hope still remained, they had nothing left but to put up their prayers for Lady Bab's recovery.
At length the important evening arrived, that was to decide all their expectations and fears. Many consultations had been held every day, that things might be perfect and in order, when the time came: yet notwithstanding all their precautions, a dispute arose almost at the last moment, Whether Lady Frippery was to receive her company at the top or bottom of the stairs? This momentous question begat a warm debate. Her ladyship and miss contended resolutely for the top of the stairs, Sir Thomas for the bottom, and Mr. Chase, observed a neutrality; till at length, after a long altercation, the knight was obliged to submit to a majority of voices; though not without condemning his wife and daughter for want of politeness. 'My dear,' said he, (taking a pinch of snuff with great vehemence,) 'I am amazed that you can be guilty of such a solecism in breeding: it surprises me, that you are not sensible of the impropriety of it—Will it not show much greater respect and complaisance to meet your company at the bottom of the stairs, than to stand like an Indian queen receiving homage at the top of them?' 'Yes, my dear!' answered her ladyship; 'But you know my territories do not commence till the top of the stairs; our territories do not begin below stairs; and it would be very improper for me to go out of my own dominions—Don't you see that, my dear? I am surprised at your want of comprehension to-day, Sir Thomas!' 'Well, well, I have given it up,' answered he, 'have your own way, child; have your own way, my lady, and then you'll be pleased, I hope.—But I am sure, in my days, people would have met their company at the bottom of the stairs. When I and Lord Oxford were in the ministry together, affairs would have been very different—but the age has lost all its civility, and people are not half so well-bred as they were formerly.'
This reflexion on modern times, piqued the daughter's vanity, who now began to play her part in the debate. 'Yes, papa,' said she, 'but what signifies what people did formerly? that is nothing at all to us at present, you know; for to be sure all people were fools formerly: I always think people were fools in former days. They never did anything as we do now-a-days, and therefore it stands to reason they were all fools and idiots. 'Tis very manifest they had no breeding, and all the world must allow, that the world never was so wise, and polite, and sensible, and clever as it is at this moment; and for my part, I would not have lived in former days for all the world.' 'Pugh!' said the knight, interrupting her, 'you are a little illiterate monkey; you talk without book, child! the world is nothing to what it was in my days. Every thing is altered for the worse. The women are not near so handsome. None of you are comparable to your mothers.' 'Nay, there,'—said Lady Frippery, interposing, 'There, Sir Thomas, I entirely agree with you—there you have my consent, with all my heart. To be sure, all the celebrated girls about town, are mere dowdies, in comparison of their mothers; and if there could be a resurrection of beauties, they would shine only like Bristol stones in the company of diamonds.' 'Bless me, Mamma!' cried the young lady, with the tears standing in her eyes, 'how can you talk so? There never were so many fine women in the whole world, as there are now in London; and 'tis enough to make one burst out a crying, to hear you talk—Come, Mr. Chase, why don't you stand up for us modern beauties?'
In the midst of this conversation, there was a violent rap at the street-door; whereupon they all flew to the window, crying out eagerly, 'There—there is Lady Bab—I am sure 'tis Lady Bab; for I know her footman's rap.' Yet in spite of this knowledge, Lady Bab did not arrive according to their hopes; and it seemed as if her ladyship had laid a scheme to keep them in suspence; for of all the people, who composed this illustrious assembly, Lady Bab came the last. They took care, however, to inform the company from time to time, that she was expected, by making the same observation on the arrival of every fresh coach, and still persisting, that they knew her footman's rap, though they had given so many proofs to the contrary. At length, however, Lady Bab Frightful came; and it is impossible to express the joy they felt on her appearance; which revived them on a sudden from the depth of despair to the highest exaltation of happiness.
Her ladyship's great toe engrossed the conversation for the first hour, whose misfortune was lamented in very pathetic terms by all the company, and many wise reflexions were made upon the accident which had happened; some condemning the ignorance, and others the carelessness of the surgeon, who had been guilty of such a trespass on her ladyship's flesh. Some advised her to be very careful how she walked upon it; others recommended a larger shoe to her ladyship, and Lady Frippery, in particular, continued the whole evening to protest the vast obligations she had to her, for favouring her with her company under such an affliction. But had I an hundred hands, and as many pens, it would be impossible to describe the folly of that night: wherefore, begging the reader to supply it by the help of his own imagination, I proceed to other parts of this history.