Verse > Anthologies > Hamilton Fish Armstrong, ed. > The Book of New York Verse
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Hamilton Fish Armstrong, ed.  The Book of New York Verse.  1917.
 
The Prince’s Ball, 1860 (abridged)
By Edmund Clarence Stedman
 
O, HAVEN’T you heard how an English Prince, prince, prince,
  A genuine royal scion—
How an English Prince, not three months since,
Came sailing, singing, dancing along,
His true American friends among?        5
To him I dedicate this song,
  By leave of the British Lion.
 
Maidens were saying, long before
He came in sight of a Yankee shore,
That all the princes of fairy rhyme,        10
Voyaging “once upon a time,”
Never compared with this island Prince;
His lips were sweeter than sugared quince;
  His locks as brown
  As Prince Charming’s own;        15
  When he spoke, his tone
Was nice to be heard, as that of the bird,
To which Prince Ruby was cruelly turned
By the spell his magical rival learned.
.    .    .    .    .    .    .
For the honour and commerce of the city,        20
’Twas plain to see there must be a Committee!
So men of means and might were chosen,
Score by score and dozen by dozen,
In all, four hundred noble names,
  With General Scott to lead them:        25
So great their fortunes and their fames,
  That when the Aldermen came to read them,
They blessed their luminaries stellar
And hid, abashed, in the City Hall cellar.
 
In fine, so stylish and wealthy a set        30
Were never gathered together yet—
  Full of bankers, clubmen, and scholars;
A Herald reporter, who knows how to count,
Added up their estate to the gross amount
  Of Two Hundred Million Dollars!        35
Birds of a feather, they came together,
  To hold a primal caucus!
It don’t appear in what mystic hall
They met, or whether in daylight at all;
  Perhaps in the shades of Orcus        40
Wherever it was, the question arose—
“How do members to honour the Prince propose?”
 
Some wanted a Dinner, and midnight speeches
Along with the wine and brandy-peaches;
Others on having a Ball insisted,        45
Which proposition the first resisted,
Till quite a dignified contest was raging;
But, while gentlemen fiercely the battle were waging,
One member, most potent and wealthy, began
To speak up for the Terpsichorean plan;        50
For he thought, if “Lord Renfrew” himself were to choose,
A Ball would exactly accord with his views;
That very accomplished and noble young man
Could ride, sing, and shoot, and, if need be, eat,
In a manner that others found hard to beat.        55
    But none of these arts
    Made him Prince of Hearts,
  So much as his talent for dancing;
Of all the Princes under the sun,
There surely never was such an one        60
  For frolicking and romancing!
 
Then from their sofas uprose ten
Very wealthy and righteous men,
  With consciences sorely troubled:
“They’d dance if they must, but if they could call        65
The thing a Reception, instead of a Ball,
  They’d see their subscriptions doubled.”
Four were Presbyterians blue;
High-Church Episcopalians two;
Low-Church Episcopalian one;        70
Broad-Church Unitarian, none;
Three were Baptists, open and close:
  All pillars in firm position.
For two, the Ball was too much of a dose;
But the eight resolved, with one accord,        75
That, as David danced before the Lord,
They’d foot it once for the royal nonce,
  Despite the risk of perdition;
Yet, the better to wash the sin away,
Each secretly vowed to shortly pay        80
Very much more than ever before
  To the Afghanistan mission.
Thereupon the Committee voted, all,
That My Lord should have an Academy Ball.
.    .    .    .    .    .    .
Passing the Quaker City’s gates,        85
My Lord has left the United States
  To cross the Jersey peninsula;
Has slept once more on American shore:
Ridden from Castle Garden, through
Three miles of flags—red, white, and blue,        90
  Walls of marble, iron, and brick—
  Roofs and balconies, noisily thick
With thousands sprawling after a view,
’Till he’s lodged on the handsomest Avenue
  Of the greatest of cities insular.        95
 
But now, as October Twelfth drew near,
What hurry and bustle, joy and fear;
Jealous hatred of those to appear,
By those whose hopes were blasted and sere;
As if all the life of a hemisphere        100
  Were mingled in hocus-pocus,
And, through Vanity’s lenses flashing hot,
Made the Empire City a radiant spot,
  With Irving Place for its focus!
What costume-trying in visits flying:        105
Days of dress-and-jewelry buying!
A hundred mantua-makers were dying
Of sheer exhaustion, and half a score
Exchanged the smiles they usually wore
  For a reckless inurbanity;        110
While every tailor, from Fulton to Bond,
Declared himself in the Slough of Despond,
And solemnly swore that one order more
  Would drive him into insanity.
What scintillant splendours found display,        115
In mirrored windows along Broadway!
By the “Vanderbilt” they sent, in advance,
For jewels of Florence and silks of France.
Homeward she paddled, deeply laden,
With stuffs to make a Manhattan maiden        120
  A princess, minus the dowry;
To make a matron of forty years,
As fine as a Dowager Duchess appears
  In a spectacle-play, at the Bowery.
No lady-shopper could ever escape        125
From the robes of every fabric and shape—
Satins, taffetas, gauzes, crape;
Skirts of tulle embroidered with gold;
Watered silks in waves unrolled;
Heaviest textures, marvellous hues,        130
Ashes of Roses, buffs and blues;
Gros des Indies and rich brocade,
In lustrous folds and colours arrayed;
Dark Moirées, with silver garniture,
  Light Moirées, brilliant with gold and cherry—        135
Fabrics costly enough, I’m sure,
  A queen to wed, or even to bury;
Chantilly laces, Valenciennes;
Ribbons woven by Lyons men;
Fancy fans, with flower and feather,        140
Lavishly piled in heaps together;—
What can compare with sights so rare,
Save the Paris booth in Vanity Fair!
 
But the world turns over and over again,
With cloud and sunshine, wind and rain,        145
  Love and envy and rancour,
At last It has come! the crowning night;
The ultimatum of all delight;
The hour, when even an anchorite
  May be pardoned for weighing anchor,        150
Hoisting sails, and bearing away
To the rendezvous in Prince’s Bay,
  For which thousands vainly hanker;
(You see it is not the Committee’s fault
That Smith or Jones isn’t worth his salt        155
  Or wasn’t born a banker.)
 
It has come at last! How bright the sight
Of a Grand-Academy gala-night!
The blaze of the whirling calcium rays
Lightens the spacious entrance-ways,        160
Flashing on up-turned, glaring faces
Of thousands thronging about the squares:
Thousands, to whom your jewels and laces
Are things for which nobody this night cares.
For a sight of the Prince the people crowd;        165
To your simple hearts should be allowed
A sight of the Prince, poor people! since
He came to visit us one and all,
Asked or not asked to go to the Ball!
Scores of policemen will never convince        170
The crowd that it oughtn’t to see the Prince.
 
Up to the porch the carriages rumble,
  By yellow-plushes attended;
No wonder the labouring-men feel humble,
  In the presence of scenes so splendid!        175
    Never before, never before,
Such diamonds and dresses entered that door;
 
Into the radiance we glide,
As a bayou-voyager follows the tide,
From mangrove shadows and fallen trees,        180
To the silvery sheen of moonlit seas;
Into the glare of countless lights,
And the wedding of sweetest sounds and sights;
Where gilded walls and tapestried halls,
Repeat the Music’s dying falls,        185
And flowers of multitudinous hues,
Their blended, odorous breaths diffuse,
But through the glamour we move along
To glance at the guests that with us throng,
  And study the queer variety        190
It takes to fashion that paradox-
Ical edifice, built on golden “rocks,”
  Entitled “Our Best Society.”
 
Enough, you say, of polemical rhyme;
And the ladies whisper, ’tis fully time        195
  For the Prince to make his appearance;
“He’s coming!” “He isn’t!” “Yes, that is he”;
And better for him, to be seen and to see,
If the flower of our aristocracy
  Would give him a better clearance.        200
But as Albert Edward, young and fair,
Stood on the canopied dais-stair,
And looked, from the circle crowding there,
To the length and breadth of the outer scene,
Perhaps he thought of his mother, the Queen;        205
(Long may her empery be serene!)
But what were his thoughts I can never tell,
For sharply, as belle was jostling belle—
Each making a Flora-Temple “burst,”
For the honour of dancing beside him first—        210
The staging before him fell in with a crash,
And fifty young ladies, as quick as a flash,
Sank down in a kind of ethereal hash,
As dainty a dish as a Prince could wish;
  But he passed to the supper-pavilion,        215
And we saw him no more, till they mended the floor,
  And opened the primal cotillion.
There, gracefully dancing with Mrs. Morgan,
  He had quite forgotten his thoughts, I suppose,
  Just as hearers a sermon forget, at its close—        220
When the “Jubilate” is played on the organ;
  Whatever his fancies were, nobody knows.
 
Now, how strange the feeling that comes to one,
When the royal Show is almost done,
When the gas for hours has dazzled the eye,        225
And the air grows dense as the flowers die!
How strange to go out, from the crowded rout,
To the open street, where to all is given
A sight of the clear and infinite Heaven,
Out into the cool October night,        230
Where, in place of that garish inner light,
Are all those silvery cressets, fed
With rays from God’s own glory shed.
Ah! if one now might only flee
Across that measureless, lucid sea,        235
To lustres—O, how pure and far!—
What, from the spirit’s chosen star,
Would all this glittering turmoil seem,
Save the fantasy of an earthly dream?
 
And even the Man who lives in the Moon—        240
(You’d reach him a million times as soon!)
Who, day after day, sees the whole round world
Like a map to his curious gaze unfurled—
Would perceive no increase in the polarized ray
  Thrown off from this part of our sphere,        245
Though the roof of the Opera House were away,
  And the lights that illuminate each tier—
And all the lamps that make Paris, they say,
And London, as cheerful by night as by day,
With all in New York, together were burning;        250
To the Man in the Moon they’d be past all discerning;
So there’s one man, at least, will know nothing at all
Of the splendour and fame of The Prince’s Ball!
 
 
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