The Land of Contrasts eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 243 pages of information about The Land of Contrasts.
and other large cities have organised afternoon whist-clubs, at which all the “rigour of the game” is observed.  Many of them take regular lessons from whist experts; and among the latter themselves are not a few ladies, who find the teaching of their favourite game a more lucrative employment than governessing or journalism.  Even so small a matter as the eating of ice-cream may illustrate the progressive nature of American society.  Elderly Americans still remember the time when it was usual to eat this refreshing delicacy out of economical wine-glasses such as we have still to be content with in England.  But now-a-days no American expects or receives less than a heaping saucer of ice-cream at a time.

Americans are born dancers; they have far more quicksilver in their feet than their English cousins.  Perhaps the very best waltzers I have ever danced with were English girls, who understood the poetry of the art and knew how to reflect not merely the time of the music, but its nuances of rhythm and tone.  But dancers such as these are like fairies’ visits, that come but once or twice in a lifetime; and a large proportion of English girls dance very badly.  In America one seldom or never finds a girl who cannot dance fairly, and most of them can claim much warmer adverbs than that.  The American invention of “reversing” is admirable in its unexaggerated form, but requires both study and practice; and the reason that it was voted “bad form” in England was simply that the indolence of the gilded youth prevented him ever taking the trouble to master it.  Our genial satirist Punch hit the nail on the head:  “Shall we—­eh—­reverse, Miss Lilian?” “Reverse, indeed; it’s as much as you can do to keep on your legs as it is.”

One custom at American dances struck me as singularly stupid and un-American in its inelasticity.  I know not how widespread it is, or how fashionable, but it reigned in circles which seemed to my unsophisticated eyes quite comme il faut.  The custom is that by which a man having once asked a lady to dance becomes responsible for her until someone else offers himself as her partner.  It probably arose from the chivalrous desire not to leave any girl partnerless, but in practice it works out quite the other way.  When a man realises that he may have to retain the same partner for several dances, or even for the greater part of the evening, he will, unless he is a Bayard absolutely sans peur et sans reproche, naturally think twice of engaging a lady from whom his release is problematical.  Hence the tendency is to increase the triumphs of the belle, and decrease the chances of the less popular maiden.  It is also extremely uncomfortable for a girl to feel that a man has (to use the ugly slang of the occasion) “got stuck” with her; and it takes more adroitness and self-possession than any young girl can be expected to possess to extricate herself neatly from the awkward position.  Another funny custom

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The Land of Contrasts from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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