Adams Papers

Louisa Catherine Adams, “Death in the Dance, a Reminiscence”, 31 December 1800

[post 31 December 1800]

Death in the Dance.

A reminiscence

The new year had opened without a cloud to obscure the azure of heaven and all hailed the prospect of a fair day.—The Sun shone with radiant splendor; every eye was brilliant with glee, and the cheeks of youth and beauty glowed with the rich carmine of health.

Visits were paid, gifts presented, gratulations offered, and tokens of love exchanged with all the exhilaration of social delight giving animation to a scene always cheerful and attractive in the northern cities of Europe.—Large family parties were formed to participate at the social board, tending to strengthen the bonds of attachment in the young, and to renew the delightful reminiscences of youth in those, who had little left to gild the remnants of dreary age, and the cold lessons of experience, but the fond and lingering recollections of the past. The evening was to close among the fashionable world with a splendid Ball given by one of the Ambassadors, in honour of the birth of a Prince the then supposed heir of the crown of Sweden. All the beauties of Berlin were to exhibit themselves on this great occasion; the most elegant costumes were selected to adorn their persons, and the Lady Ambassadress had procured all that money could purchase, luxury produce, or art [. . .] invent to do honour to the fete, and give zest to the pleasure of her expected guests.

The House was splendidly illuminated inside, with Candelabras, Chandeliers and Lustres, reflected and multiplied by elegant Mirrors; and all the showy ornaments that adorn a noble Mansion. While the exterior of the vast building displayed a brilliant façade of light in every variegated colour, supporting a transparency of the Arms of Sweden tastefully arranged. Servants in rich Liveries lined the entrys and stair case; while in the suite of Apartments the open folding doors of which leading one into the other displayed their long and vast proportions, The Ambassador, his Lady and suite, superbly dressed and blazing with jewels, stood in readiness to receive their expected company, with that “suaviter in modo,” that easy affability only acquired by high breeding, and which forms the ne plus ultra of Ambassadorial dignity, and diplomatic excellence.

Carriage followed Carriage; and the sonorous voice of the maitre d’hotel echoed through the halls as he announced the arrivals—and soon the Music sounded with merry glee; refreshments were served, and the young gradually formed themselves into quadrilles; while the old and middle aged surrounded the card tables for different games in quest of amusements, or to kill time until the supper should yield a more pleasing occupation—to them the last best gift of the Evening. All was hilarity joy and delight, and time seemed to have shaken off his wings, and to have forgotten his pace while gazing on this animated scene—But alas! who can tell what an hour may bring forth; or how soon the “house of feasting may be turned into the house of mourning” and the mansion of pleasure become the abode of death.

In the midst of this dazzling scene of splendour, of beauty, of youth, and of all the enchantments of wealth; while yet their feet true to the musicks time threaded the mazes of the tuneful dance—a young Officer, in full health, handsome, accomplished, beloved and admired, two and twenty years of age, while dancing to his fair partner was observed by her to reel, and ere he fell to the ground his manly and beautiful form had stiffened in the icy chill of the dark tyrant death.—

Dreadful was the contrast afforded by this awful scene—The pageantry of wealth, the blaze of the sparkling jewel, the glowing freshness of the flowers so gaudily blooming, only added to the gloom: fixed in the trappings of fair natures guise; while man in all the gorgeous tints of art and pride, was cut off like the grass more evanescent than the gardens boast.

The cry of lamentation and woe alone assailed the ear, and the sad wailing of unrepressed sorrow, the shriek of youthful terror and the deep and heavy sighs of the relatives fell on the heart and filled it with despair. While the mind imbued with religious hope turned to that God, whose fiat had gone forth! with the conviction that it had gone forth in mercy—and thus even in the chosen hours of our earthly joys do we walk in death, and “the house of feasting is instantly changed into the house of mourning

Alas! poor Dorville—

MHi: Adams Papers.

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