These dissipations extinguish all love of usefulness. How could you expect one to be interested in the alleviations of the world’s misery, while there is a question to be decided about the size of a glove or the shade of a pongee? How many of these men and women of the ball-room visit the poor, or help dress the wounds of a returned soldier in the hospital? When did the world ever see a perpetual dancer distributing tracts? Such persons are turned in upon themselves. And it is very poor pasture!
This gilded sphere is utterly bedwarfing to intellect and soul. This constant study of little things; this harassing anxiety about dress; this talk of fashionable infinitesimals; this shoe-pinched, hair-frizzled, fringe-spattered group—that simper and look askance at the mirrors and wonder, with infinity of interest, “how that one geranium leaf does look;” this shrivelling up of man’s moral dignity, until it is no more observable with the naked eye; this taking of a woman’s heart, that God meant should be filled with all amenities, and compressing it until all the fragrance, and simplicity, and artlessness are squeezed out of it; this inquisition of a small shoe; this agony of tight lacing; this wrapping up of mind and heart in a ruffle; this tumbling down of a soul that God meant for great upliftings!
I prophesy the spiritual ruin of all participators in this rivalry. Have the white, polished, glistening boards ever been the road to heaven? Who at the flash of those chandeliers hath kindled a torch for eternity? From the table spread at the close of that excited and besweated scene, who went home to say his prayers?
To many, alas! this life is a masquerade ball. As, at such entertainments, gentlemen and ladies appear in the dress of kings or queens, mountain bandits or clowns, and at the close of the dance throw off their disguises, so, in this dissipated life, all unclean passions move in mask. Across the floor they trip merrily. The lights sparkle along the wall, or drop from the ceiling—a very cohort of fire! The music charms. The diamonds glitter. The feet bound. Gemmed hands, stretched out, clasp gemmed hands. Dancing feet respond to dancing feet. Gleaming brow bends low to gleaming brow. On with the dance! Flash, and rustle, and laughter, and immeasurable merry-making! But the languor of death comes over the limbs, and blurs the sight. Lights lower! Floor hollow with sepulchral echo. Music saddens into a wail. Lights lower! The maskers can hardly now be seen. Flowers exchange their fragrance for a sickening odor, such as comes from garlands that have lain in vaults of cemeteries. Lights lower! Mists fill the room. Glasses rattle as though shaken by sullen thunder. Sighs seem caught among the curtains. Scarf falls from the shoulder of beauty,—a shroud! Lights lower! Over the slippery boards, in dance of death, glide jealousies, disappointments, lust, despair. Torn leaves and withered garlands only half hide the ulcered feet. The stench of smoking lamp-wicks almost quenched. Choking damps. Chilliness. Feet still. Hands folded. Eyes shut. Voices hushed.