The Arts

As mentioned in the ‘Sport and Leisure’ section, the arts were a major way in which aristocrats distracted themselves, through entertainment, creation, and patronage. The opera and ballet, in particular, were more about the socialization and the publicity of attending than about the appreciation of music or dance.

One’s own ability to sing, dance, paint, or play an instrument were important accomplishments (especially for women) when it came to assessing one’s social worth.

'Too Good to be True'. Punch (London, England), Saturday, July 05, 1845; pg. 16. New Readerships.

‘Too Good to be True’.
Punch (London, England), Saturday, July 05, 1845; pg. 16. New Readerships.

  • “Very stupid people often become very musical: it is a sort of pretension to intellect that suits their capacities. Plutarch says somewhere, that the best musical instruments are made from the jaw-bones of asses” (Godolphin 2:134).
  • He was “sufficiently ignorant in the ways of the world to imagine it necessary to keep silence during a musical performance, whereas in fact, as every body knows, the first chord of a young lady’s harp is the established and recognised signal for the commencement of general conversation” (Sayings and Doings, Second Series, Vol. I 89).
  • “Welsted . . . was ignorant enough to suppose that people frequented the King’s Theatre in the Haymarket, to hear and see, instead of being heard and seen, which, as every well-regulated person knows, are the real objects of their visits there, and the actual quid pro quo of the subscription” (Sayings and Doings, Second Series, Vol. III 92).
  • “’I do not approve of her frequenting theatres – I think the practice of permitting young people to appear at such places, highly reprehensible’” (The Confessions of an Elderly Gentleman 192).
  • “’is it possible you can be so vulgar as to go to the opera to hear the music?’” (The Baronet 20).
  • “Music has often been blamed for leveling ranks too much, and introducing us into bad company” (Tremaine 2:137).
  • “’As soon as the ballet commences, we not only lend our eyes, but our ears . . . all must be at their post to heighten this delectable enjoyment, which – no delicate woman ought to tolerate, and no wise man to allow his wife or daughter to witness’” (The Three Eras of Woman’s Life 1:169-170).
  • “’an opera-box is but a niche, in which the presiding divinities of fashion plant themselves to receive the homage of their worshippers’” (The Three Eras of Woman’s Life 1:229-230).

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