Introduction And Progress Of The Ballet

The Ballets of Versailles.--Louis XIV. astonished at his own

importance.--Louis retires from the stage; congratulations

addressed to him on the subject; he re-appears.--Privileges of

Opera dancers and singers.--Manners and customs of the Parisian

public.--The Opera under the regency.--Four ways of presenting a

petition.--Law and the financial scheme.--Charon and paper

money.--The Duke of O
leans as a composer.--An orchestra in a court

of justice.--Handel in Paris.--Madame Sallé; her reform in the

Ballet, and her first appearance in London.

[Sidenote: A CORPS OF NOBLES.]

After the Opera comes the Ballet. Indeed, the two are so intimately

mixed together that it would be impossible in giving the history of the

one to omit all mention of the other. The Ballet, as the name

sufficiently denotes, comes to us from the French, and in the sense of

an entertainment exclusively in dancing, dates from the foundation of

the Académie Royale de Musique, or soon afterwards. During the first

half of the 17th century, and even earlier, ballets were performed at

the French court, under the direction of an Italian, who, abandoning his

real name of Baltasarini, had adopted that of Beaujoyeux. He it was who

in 1581 produced the "Ballet Comique de la Royne," to celebrate the

marriage of the Duc de Joyeuse. This piece, which was magnificently

appointed, and of which the representation is said to have cost

3,600,000 francs, was an entertainment consisting of songs, dances, and

spoken dialogue, and appears to have been the model of the masques which

were afterwards until the middle of the 17th century represented in

England, and of most of the ballets performed in France until about the

same period. There were dancers engaged at the French Opera from its

very commencement, but it was difficult to obtain them in any numbers,

and, worst of all, there were no female dancers to be found. The company

of vocalists could easily be recruited from the numerous cathedral

choirs; for the Ballet there were only the dancing-masters of the

capital to select from, the profession of dancing-mistress not having

yet been invented. Nymphs, dryads, and shepherdesses were for some time

represented by young boys, who, like the fauns, satyrs, and all the rest

of the dancing troop wore masks. At last, however, in 1681, Terpsichore

was worthily represented by dancers of her own sex, and an aristocratic

corps de ballet was formed, with Madame la Dauphine, the Princess de

Conti, and Mdlle. de Nantes as principal dancers, supported by the

Dauphin, the Prince de Conti and the Duke de Vermandois. They appeared

in the Triomphe de l'Amour, and the astounding exhibition was fully

appreciated. Previously, the ladies of the court, when they appeared in

ballets, had confined themselves to reciting verses, which sometimes,

moreover, were said for them by an orator engaged for the purpose. To

see a court lady dancing on the stage was quite a novelty; hence, no

doubt, the success of that spectacle.


The first celebrated ballerina at the French Opera was Mademoiselle La

Fontaine, styled la reine de la danse--a title of which the value was

somewhat diminished by the fact that there were only three other

professional danseuses in Paris. Lulli, however, paid great attention to

the ballet, and under his direction it soon gained importance. To Lulli,

who occasionally officiated as ballet-master, is due the introduction of

rapid style of dancing, which must have contrasted strongly with the

stately solemn steps that were alone in favour at the Court during the

early days of Louis XIV's reign. The minuet-loving Louis had notoriously

an aversion for gay brilliant music. Thus he failed altogether to

appreciate the talent of "little Baptiste" not Lulli, but Anet, a pupil

of Corelli, who is said to have played the sonatas of his master very

gracefully, and with an "agility" which at that time was considered

prodigious. The Great Monarch preferred the heavy monotonous strains of

his own Baptiste, the director of the Opera. It may here be not out of

place to mention that Lulli's introduction of a lively mode of dancing

into France (it was only in his purely operatic music that he was so

lugubriously serious) took place simultaneously with the importation

from England of the country-dance--and corrupted into contre-danse,

which is now the French for quadrille. Moreover, when the French took

our country-dance, a name which some etymologists would curiously enough

derive from its meaningless corruption--we adopted their minuet which

was first executed in England by the Marquis de Flamarens, at the Court

of Charles II. The passion of our English noblemen for country-dances is

recorded as follows in the memoirs of the Count de Grammont:--"Russel

was one of the most vigorous dancers in England, I mean for

country-dances (contre-danses). He had a collection of two or three

hundred arranged in tables, which he danced from the book; and to prove

that he was not old, he sometimes danced till he was exhausted. His

dancing was a good deal like his clothes; it had been out of fashion

twenty years."

Every one knows that Louis XIV. was a great actor; and even his mother,

Anne of Austria, appeared on the stage at the Court of Madrid to the

astonishment and indignation of the Spaniards, who said that she was

lost for them, and that it was not as Infanta of Spain, but as Queen of

France, that she had performed.

On the occasion of Louis XIV.'s marriage with Marie Therèse, the

celebrated expression Il n'y plus de Pyrenées was illustrated by a

ballet, in which a French nymph and a Spanish nymph sang a duet while

half the dancers were dressed in the French and half in the Spanish


Like other illustrious stars, Louis XIV. took his farewell of the stage

more than once before he finally left it. His Histrionic Majesty was in

the habit both of singing and dancing in the court ballets, and took

great pleasure in reciting such graceful compliments to himself as the


"Plus brilliant et mieux fait que tous les dieux ensemble

La terre ni le ciel n'ont rien qui me ressemble."

(Thétis et Pélée.--Benserade. 1654),

"Il n'est rien de si grand dans toute la nature

Selon l'âme et le coeur au point où je me vois;

De la terre et de moi qui prendra la mesure

Trouvera que la terre est moins grande que moi."

(L'Impatience.--Benserade. 1661).

On the 15th February, 1669, Louis XIV. sustained his favourite character

of the Sun, in Flora, the eighteenth ballet in which he had played a

part--and the next day solemnly announced that his dancing days were

over, and that he would exhibit himself no more. The king had not only

given his royal word, but for nine months had kept it, when Racine

produced his Britannicus, in which the following lines are spoken by

"Narcisse" in reference to Nero's performances in the amphitheatre.

Pour toute ambition pour vertu singulière

Il excelle à conduire un char dans la carrière;

A disputer des prix indignes des ses mains,

A se donner lui-même en spectacle aux Romains,

A venir prodiguer sa voix sur un théâtre

A réciter des chants qu'il veut qu'on idolâtre;

Tandis que des soldats, de moments en moments,

Vont arracher pour lui des applaudissements.


The above lines have often been quoted as an example of virtuous

audacity on the part of Racine, who, however, did not write them until

the monarch who at one time did not hesitate to "se donner lui même en

spectacle, &c.," had confessed his fault and vowed never to repeat it;

so that instead of a lofty rebuke, the verses were in fact an indirect

compliment neatly and skilfully conveyed. So far from profiting by

Racine's condemnation of Nero's frivolity and shamelessness, and

retiring conscience-stricken from the stage (of which he had already

taken a theatrical farewell) Louis XIV. reappeared the year afterwards,

in Les amants magnifiques, a Comédie-ballet, composed by Molière and

himself, in which the king figured and was applauded as author,

ballet-master, dancer, mime, singer, and performer on the flute and

guitar. He had taken lessons on the latter instrument from the

celebrated Francisco Corbetta, who afterwards made a great sensation in

England at the Court of Charles II.

If Louis XIV. did not scruple to assume the part of an actor himself,

neither did he think it unbecoming that his nobles should do the same,

even in presence of the general public and on the stage of the Grand

Opera. "We wish, and it pleases us," he says in the letters patent

granted to the Abbé Perrin, the first director of the Académie Royale de

Musique (1669) "that all gentlemen (gentilshommes) and ladies may sing

in the said pieces and representations of our Royal Academy without

being considered for that reason to derogate from their titles of

nobility, or from their privileges, rights and immunities." Among the

nobles who profited by this permission and appeared either as singers,

or as dancers at the Opera, were the Seigneur du Porceau, and Messieurs

de Chasré and Borel de Miracle; and Mesdemoiselles de Castilly, de Saint

Christophe, and de Camargo. Another privilege accorded to the Opera was

of such an infamous nature that were it not for positive proof we could

scarcely believe it to have existed. It had full control, then, over all

persons whose names were once inscribed on its books; and if a young

girl went of her own accord, or was persuaded into presenting herself at

the Opera, or was led away from her parents and her name entered on the

lists by her seducer--then in neither case had her family any further

power over her. Lettres de cachet even were issued, commanding the

persons named therein to join the Opera; and thus the Count de Melun got

possession of both the Camargos. The Duke de Fronsac was enabled to

perpetrate a similar act of villany. He it is who is alluded to in the

following lines by Gilbert:--

"Qu'on la séduise! Il dit: ses eunuques discrets,

Philosophes abbés, philosophes valets,

Intriguent, sèment l'or, trompent les yeux d'un père,

Elle cède, on l'enlève; en vain gémit sa mère.

Echue à l'Opéra par un rapt solennel,

Sa honte la dérobe au pouvoir paternel."


As for men they were sent to the Opera as they were sent to the

Bastille. Several amateurs, abbés and others, the beauty of whose voices

had been remarked, were arrested by virtue of lettres de cachet, and

forced to appear at the Académie Royale de Musique, which had its

conscription like the army and navy. On the other hand, we have seen

that the pupils and associates of the Académie enjoyed certain

privileges, such as freedom from parental restraint and the right of

being immoral; to which was afterwards added that of setting creditors

at defiance. The pensions of singers, dancers, and musicians belonging

to the Opera were exempted from all liability to seizure for debt.

The dramatic ballet, or ballet d'action, was invented by the Duchess

du Maine. We soon afterwards imported it into England as, in Opera, we

imported the chorus, which was also a French invention, and one for

which the musical drama can scarcely be too grateful. The dramatic

ballet, however, has never been naturalized in this country. It still

crosses over to us occasionally, and when we are tired of it goes back

again to its native land; but even as an exotic, it has never fairly

taken root in English soil.

The Duchess du Maine was celebrated for her Nuits de Sceaux, or Nuits

Blanches, as they were called, which the nobles of Louis XIV.'s Court

found as delightful as they found Versailles dull. The Duchess used to

get up lotteries among her most favoured guests, in which the prizes

were so many permissions to give a magnificent entertainment. The

letters of the alphabet were placed in a box, and the one who drew O had

to get up an opera; C stood for a comedy; B for a ballet; and so on. The

hostess of Sceaux had not only a passion for theatrical performances,

but also a great love of literature, and the idea occurred to her of

realising on the stage of her own theatre something like one of those

pantomimes of antiquity of which she had read the descriptions with so

much pleasure. Accordingly, she took the fourth act of Les Horaces,

had it set to music by Mouret, just as if it were to be sung, and caused

this music to be executed by the orchestra alone, while Balon and

Mademoiselle Prévost, who were celebrated as dancers, but had never

attempted pantomime before, played in dumb show the part of the last

Horatius, and of Camilla, the sister of the Curiatii. The actor and

actress entered completely into the spirit of the new drama, and

performed with such truthfulness and warmth of emotion as to affect the

spectators to tears.

Mouret, the musical director of Les Nuits Blanches, composed several

operas and ballets for the Académie; but when the establishment at

Sceaux was broken up, after the discovery of the Spanish conspiracy, in

which the Duchess du Maine was implicated, he considered himself ruined,

went mad and died at Charenton in the lunatic asylum.

* * * * *

[Sidenote: THE FREE LIST.]

"Long live the Regent, who would rather go to the Opera than to the

Mass," was the cry when on the death of Louis XIV., the reins of

government were assumed by the Duke of Orleans. At this time the whole

expenses of the Opera, including chorus, ballet, musicians, scene

painters, decorators, &c.--from the prima donna to the

bill-sticker--amounted only to 67,000 francs a year, being considerably

less than half what is given now to a first-rate soprano alone. The

first act of the Regent in connexion with the Opera was to take its

direction out of the hands of musicians, and appoint the Duc d'Antin

manager. The new impresario, wishing to reward Thévanard, who was at

that time the best singer in France, offered him the sum of 600 francs.

Thévanard indignantly refused it, saying "that it was a suitable

present, at most, for his valet," upon which d'Antin proposed to

imprison the singer for his insolence, but abstained from doing so, for

fear of irritating the public with whom Thévanard was a prodigious

favourite. He, however, resigned the direction of the Opera, saying that

he "wished to have nothing more to do with such canaille."

The next operatic edict of the Regent had reference to the admission of

authors, who hitherto had enjoyed the privilege of free entry to the

pit. In 1718 the Regent raised them to the amphitheatre--not as a mark

of respect, but in order that they might be the more readily detected

and expelled in case of their forming cabals to hiss the productions of

their rivals, which, standing up in the pit in the midst of a dense

crowd, they had been able to do with impunity. Even to the present day,

when authors exchange applause much more freely than hisses, the

regulations of the French theatre do not admit them to the pit, though

they have free access to every other part of the house.

At the commencement of the 18th century, the Opera was the scene of

frequent disturbances. The Count de Talleyrand, MM. de Montmorency,

Gineste, and others, endeavouring to force their way into the theatre

during a rehearsal, were repulsed by the guard, and Gineste killed. The

Abbés Hourlier and Barentin insulted M. Fieubet; they were about to come

to blows when the guard separated them and carried off the obstreperous

ecclesiastics to For l'Evèque, where they were confined for a fortnight.

On their release Hourlier and Barentin, accompanied by a third abbé,

took their places in the balcony over the stage, and began to sing,

louder even than the actors, maintaining, when called to order, that the

Opera was established for no other purpose, and that if they had a right

to sing anywhere, it was at the Académie de Musique.


A balustrade separated the stage balconies from the stage, but continual

attempts were made to get over it, and even to break into the actresses'

dressing rooms, which were guarded by sentinels. At this period about a

third of the habitués used to make their appearance in a state of

intoxication, the example being set by the Regent himself, who could

proceed direct from his residence in the Palais Royal to the Opera,

which adjoined it. To the first of the Regent's masked balls the

Councillor of State, Rouillé, is said to have gone drunk from personal

inclination, and the Duke de Noailles in the same condition, out of

compliment to the administrator of the kingdom.

When Peter the Great visited the French Opera, in 1717, he does not

appear to have been intoxicated, but he went to sleep. When he was asked

whether the performance had wearied him, he is said to have replied,

that on the contrary he liked it to excess, and had gone to sleep from

motives of prudence. This story, however, does not quite accord with the

fact that Peter introduced public theatrical performances into Russia,

and encouraged his nobles to attend them.

Nothing illustrates better the heartless selfishness of Louis XV. than

his conduct, not at the Opera, but at his own theatre in the Louvre,

immediately after the occurrence of a terrible and fatal accident. The

Chevalier de Fénélon, an ensign in the palace guard, in endeavouring to

climb from one box to another, lost his fooling, and fell headlong on to

a spiked balustrade, where he remained transfixed through the neck. The

theatre was stained with blood in a horrible manner, and the unfortunate

chevalier was removed from the balustrade a dead man. Just then, the

Very Christian king made his appearance. He gave the signal for the

performance to commence, and the orchestra struck up as if nothing had


Some idea of the morality of the French stage during the regency and

the reign of Louis XV., may be formed from the fact that, in spite of

the great license accorded to the members of the Académie, or at least,

tolerated and encouraged by the law, it was found absolutely necessary

in 1734 to expel the prima donna Mademoiselle Pélissier, who had

shocked even the management of the Opera. She was, however, received

with open arms in London. Let us not be too hard on our neighbours.

Soon afterwards, Mademoiselle Petit, a dancer, was exiled for negligence

of attire and indiscretion behind the scenes. I must add that this

negligence was extreme. The most curious part of the affair, was that

the Abbé de la Marre, author of several libretti, undertook the young

lady's defence, and published a pamphlet in justification of her

conduct, which is to be found among his OEuvres diverses.

Another danseuse, however, named Mariette, ruled at the Opera like a

little autocrat. "The Princess," as she was named, from the regard the

Prince de Carignan, titular director of the academy, was known to

entertain for her, applied to the actual managers, Lecomte and

Leboeuf, for a payment of salary which she had already received, and

which they naturally refused to give twice. Upon this they were not only

dismissed from their places (which they had purchased) but were exiled

by lettres de cachet.


The prodigality of favourite and favoured actresses under the regency

was extreme. The before-mentioned Mademoiselle Pélissier and her friend

Mademoiselle Deschamps, both gluttonous to excess, were noted for their

contempt of all ordinary food, and of everything that happened to be

nearly in season, or at all accessible, not merely to vulgar citizens,

but to the generality of opulent sensualists. It is not said that they

aspired to the dissolution of pearls in their sauces, but if green peas

were served to them when the price of the dish was less than sixty

francs, they sent them away in disdain. Mademoiselle Pélissier was in

the receipt of 4,000 francs (£160) a year from the Opera. Mademoiselle

Deschamps, who was only a figurante, contrived to get on with a salary

of only sixteen pounds. And yet we have seen that they were neither of

them economical.

One of the most facetious members of the Académie under the regency, was

Tribou, a performer, who seems to have been qualified for every branch

of the histrionic profession, and to have possessed a certain literary

talent besides. This humourist had some favour to ask of the Duke of

Orleans. He presented a petition to him, and after the regent had read

it, said gravely--

"If your Highness would like to read it again, here is the same thing in


"Let me see it," said the Duke.

Tribou presented his petition in verse, and afterwards expressed his

readiness to sing it. He sang, and no sooner had he finished, than he


"If mon Seigneur will permit me, I shall be happy to dance it."

"Dance it?" exclaimed the regent; "by all means!"

When Tribou had concluded his pas, the duke confessed that he had

never before heard of a petition being either danced or sung, and for

the love of novelty, granted the actor his request.

During the regency, wax was substituted for tallow in the candelabra of

the Opera. This improvement was due to Law, who gave a large sum of

money to the Académie for that special purpose. On the other hand,

Mademoiselle Mazé, one of the prettiest dancers at the Opera, was ruined

three years afterwards by the failure of this operatic benefactor's

financial scheme. The poor girl put on her rouge, her mouches, and her

silk stockings, and in her gayest attire, drowned herself publicly in

the middle of the day at La Grenouillière.


After the break up of Law's system, the regent, terrified by the murmurs

and imprecations of the Parisians, endeavoured to turn the whole current

of popular hatred against the minister, by dismissing him from the

administration of the finances. When Law presented himself at the Palais

Royal, the regent refused to receive him; but the same evening, he

admitted him by a private door, apologized to him, and tried to console

him. Two days afterwards, he accompanied Law to the Opera; but to

preserve him from the fury of the people, he was obliged to have him

conducted home by a party of the Swiss guard.

In the fourth act of Lulli's Alceste, Charon admits into his bark

those shades who are able to pay their passage across the Styx, and

sends back those who have no money.

"Give him some bank notes," exclaimed a man in the pit to one of these

penniless shades. The audience took up the cry, and the scene between

Charon and the shades was, at subsequent representations, the cause of

so much tumult, that it was found necessary to withdraw the piece.

The Duke of Orleans appears to have had a sincere love of music, for he

composed an opera himself, entitled Panthée, of which the words were

written by the Marquis de La Fare. Panthée was produced at the Duke's

private theatre. After the performance, the musician, Campra, said to

the composer,

"The music, your Highness, is excellent, but the poem is detestable."

The regent called La Fare.

"Ask Campra," he said, "what he thinks of the Opera; I am sure he will

tell you that the poem is admirable, and the music worthless. We must

conclude that the whole affair is as bad as it can be."

The Duke of Orleans had written a motet for five voices, which he wished

to send to the Emperor Leopold, but before doing so, entrusted it for

revision to Bernier, the composer. Bernier handed the manuscript to the

Abbé de la Croix, whom the regent found examining it while Bernier

himself was in the next room regaling himself with his friends. The

immediate consequences of this discovery were a box on the ear for

Bernier, and ten louis for de La Croix.

The Regent also devoted some attention to the study of antiquity. He

occupied himself in particular with inquiries into the nature of the

music of the Greeks, and with the construction of an instrument which

was to resemble their lyre.

[Sidenote: MUSIC IN COURT.]

To the same prince was due the excellent idea of engaging the celebrated

Italian Opera Company of London, at that time under the direction of

Handel, to give a series of performances at the Académie. A treaty was

actually signed in presence of M. de Maurepas, the minister, by which

Buononcini the conductor, Francesca Cuzzoni, Margarita Durastanti,

Francesco Bernardi, surnamed Senesino, Gaetano Bernesta, and Guiseppe

Boschi were to come to Paris in 1723, and give twelve representations of

one or two Italian Operas, as they thought fit. Francine, the director

of the Académie, engaged to pay them 35,000 francs, and to furnish new

dresses to the principal performers. This treaty was not executed,

probably through some obstacle interposed by Francine; for the manager

signed it against his will, and on the 2nd of December following, the

regent, with whom it had originated, died. The absurd privileges secured

to the Académie Royale, and the consequent impossibility of giving

satisfactory performances of Italian Opera elsewhere than at the chief

lyrical theatre must have done much to check the progress of dramatic

music in France. From time to time Italian singers were suffered to make

their appearance at the Grand Opera; but at the regular Italian Theatre

established in Paris, as at the Comédie Française, singing was only

permitted under prescribed conditions, and the orchestra was strictly

limited, by severe penalties, rigidly enforced, to a certain number of

instruments, of which not more than six could be violins, or of the

violin family.

At the Comédie Italienne an ass appeared on the stage, and began to


"Silence," exclaimed Arlechinno, "music is forbidden here."

* * * * *

Among the distinguished amateurs of the period of the regency was M. de

Saint Montant, who played admirably on the viola, and had taught his

sons and daughters to do the same. Being concerned in a law suit, which

had to be tried at Nimes, he went with his family of musicians to visit

the judges, laid his case before them, one after the other, and by way

of peroration, gave them each a concert, with which they were so

delighted that they decided unanimously in favour of M. de Saint


A law suit had previously been decided somewhat in the same manner, but

much more logically, in favour of Joseph Campra, brother of the composer

of that name, who was the conductor of the orchestra at the Opera of

Marseilles. The manager refused to pay the musicians on the ground that

they did not play well enough. In consequence, he was summoned by the

entire band, who, when they appeared in court, begged through Campra

that they might be allowed to plead their own cause. The judges granted

the desired permission, upon which the instrumentalists drew themselves

up in orchestral order and under the direction of Campra commenced an

overture of Lulli's. The execution of this piece so delighted the

tribunal that with one voice it condemned the director to pay the sum

demanded of him.

A still more curious dispute between a violinist and a dancer was

settled in a satisfactory way for both parties. The dancer was on the

stage rehearsing a new step. The violinist was in the orchestra

performing the necessary musical accompaniment.

"Your scraping is enough to drive a man mad," said the dancer.

"Very likely," said the musician, "and your jumping is only worthy of a

clown. Perhaps as you have such a very delicate ear," he added, "and

nature has refused you the slightest grace, you would like to take my

place in the orchestra?"

[Sidenote: LA CAMARGO.]

"Your awkwardness with the bow makes me doubt whether your most useful

limbs may not be your legs," replied the dancer. "You will never do any

good where you are. Why do you not try your fortune in the ballet? Give

me your violin," he continued, "and come up on to the stage. I know the

scale already. You can teach me to play minuets, and I will show you how

to dance them."

The proposed interchange of good offices took place, and with the

happiest results. The unmusical fiddler, whose name was Dupré, acquired

great celebrity in the ballet, and Léclair, the awkward dancer, became

the chief of the French school of violin playing.

Marie-Anne Cupis de Camargo did not lose so much time in discovering her

true vocation. She gave evidence of her genius for the ballet while she

was still in the cradle, and was scarcely six months old when the

variety of her gestures, the grace of her movements, and the precision

with which she marked the rhythm of the tunes her father played on the

violin led all who saw her to believe that she would one day be a great

dancer. The young Camargo, who belonged to a noble family of Spanish

origin, made her début at the Académie in 1726, and at once achieved a

decided success. People used to fight at the doors to obtain admittance

the nights she performed; all the new fashions were introduced under her

name, and in a very short space of time her shoemaker made his fortune.

All the ladies of the court insisted on wearing shoes à la Camargo.

But the triumph of one dancer is the despair of another. Mademoiselle

Prévost, who was the queen of the ballet until Mademoiselle de Camargo

appeared was not prepared to be dethroned by a débutante. She was so

alarmed by the young girl's success that she did her utmost to keep her

in the background, and contrived before long to get her placed among

the figurantes. But in spite of this loss of rank, Mademoiselle de

Camargo soon found an opportunity of distinguishing herself. In a

certain ballet, she formed one of a group of demons, and was standing on

the stage waiting for Dumoulin, who had to dance a pas seul, when the

orchestra began the soloist's air and continued to play it, though still

no Dumoulin appeared. Mademoiselle de Camargo was seized with a sudden

inspiration. She left the demoniac ranks, improvised a step in the place

of the one that should have been danced by Dumoulin and executed it with

so much grace and spirit that the audience were in raptures.

Mademoiselle Prévost, who had previously given lessons to young Camargo,

now refused to have anything to do with her, and the two danseuses

were understood to be rivals both by the public and by one another. The

chief characteristics of Camargo's dancing were grace, gaiety, and above

all prodigious lightness, which was the more remarkable at this period

from the fact that the mode chiefly cultivated at the Opera was one of

solemn dignity. However, she had not been long on the stage before she

learned to adopt from her masters and from the other dancers whatever

good points their particular styles presented, and thus formed a style

of her own which was pronounced perfection.

[Sidenote: STAGE COSTUME.]

Mademoiselle de Camargo, in spite of her charming vivacity when dancing,

was of a melancholy mood off the stage. She was not remarkably pretty,

but her face was highly expressive, her figure exquisite, her hands and

feet of the most delicate proportions, and she possessed considerable

wit. Dupré, the ex-violinist, who had leaped at a bound from the

orchestra to the stage, was in the habit of dancing with Camargo, and

also with Mademoiselle Sallé, another celebrity of this epoch, who

afterwards visited London, where she produced the first complete ballet

d'action ever represented, and at the same time introduced an important

reform in theatrical costume.

The art of stage decoration had made considerable progress, even before

the Opera was founded, but it was not until long after Mademoiselle

Sallé had given the example in London that any reasonable principles

were observed in the selection and design of theatrical dresses. In

1730, warriors of all kinds, Greek, Roman, and Assyrian, used to appear

on the French stage in tunics belaced and beribboned, in cuirasses, and

in powdered wigs bearing tails a yard long, surmounted by helmets with

plumes of prodigious height. The tails, of which there were four, two in

front and two behind, were neatly plaited and richly pomatumed, and when

the warrior became animated, and waved his arm or shook his head, a

cloud of hair powder escaped from his wig. It appeared to Mademoiselle

Sallé, who, besides being an admirable dancer, was a woman of taste in

all matters of art, that this sort of thing was absurd; but the reforms

she suggested were looked upon as ridiculous innovations, and nearly

half a century elapsed before they were adopted in France.

This ingenious ballerina enjoyed the friendship and regard of many of

the most distinguished writers of her time. Voltaire celebrated her in

verse, and when she went to London she took with her a letter of

introduction from Fontenelle to Montesquieu, who was then ambassador at

the English Court. Another danseuse, Mademoiselle Subligny came to

England with letters of introduction from Thiriot and the Abbé Dubois to

Locke. The illustrious metaphysician had no great appreciation of

Mademoiselle de Subligny's talent, but he was civil and attentive to her

out of regard to his friends, who were also hers, and, in the words of

Fontenelle, constituted himself her "homme d'affaires."


Mademoiselle Sallé was not only esteemed by literature, she was adored

by finance, and Samuel Bernard, the Court banker and money lender, gave

her a hundred golden louis for dancing before the guests at the marriage

of his daughter with the President Molé. The same opulent amateur sent a

thousand francs to Mademoiselle Lemaure, by way of thanking her for

resuming the part of "Délie," in the "Les Fêtes Grecques et Romaines,"

on the occasion of the Duchess de Mirepoix's marriage. I must mention

that at this period it was not the custom in good society for young

ladies to appear at the Opera before their marriage. Their mothers were

determined either to keep their daughters out of harm's way, or to

escape a dangerous rivalry as long as possible; but once attached to a

husband the newly-married girl could show herself at the Opera as often

as she pleased, and it was a point of etiquette that through the Opera

she should make her entrance into fashionable life. These débutantes

of the audience department presented themselves to the public in their

richest attire, in their most brilliant diamonds; and if the effect was

good the gentlemen in the pit testified their approbation by clapping

their hands.

But to return to Mademoiselle Sallé. What she proposed to introduce

then, and did introduce into London, in addition to her own admirable

dancing, were complete dramatic ballets, with the personages attired in

the costumes of the country and time to which the subject belonged. To

give some notion of the absurdity of stage costumes at this period we

may mention that forty-two years afterwards, when Mademoiselle Sallé's

reform had still had no effect in France, the "Galathea," in Rousseau's

Pygmalion, wore a damask dress, made in the Polish style, over a

basket hoop, and on her head on enormous pouf, surmounted by three

ostrich feathers!

In her own Pygmalion, Mademoiselle Sallé carried out her new principle

by appearing, not in a Polish costume, nor in a Louis Quinze dress, but

in drapery imitated as closely as possible from the statues of

antiquity. Of her performance, and of Pygmalion generally, a good

account is given in the following letter, written by a correspondent in

London, under the date of March 15th, 1734, to the "Mercure de France."

In the style we do not recognise the author of the "Essay on the

Decadence of the Romans," and of the "Spirit of Laws," but it is just

possible that M. de Montesquieu may have responded to M. de Fontenelle's

letter of introduction, by writing a favourable criticism of the

bearer's performance, for the "influential journal" in which the notice

actually appeared.

"Mdlle. Sallé," says the London correspondent, "without considering the

embarrassing position in which she places me, desires me to give you an

account of her success. I have to tell you in what manner she has

rendered the fable of Pygmalion, and that of Ariadne and Bacchus; and of

the applause with which these two ballets of her composition have been

received by the Court of England.

"Pygmalion has now been represented for nearly two months, and the

public is never tired of it. The subject is developed in the following



"Pygmalion comes into his studio with his pupils, who perform a

characteristic dance, chisel and mallet in hand. Pygmalion tells them to

draw aside a curtain at the back of the studio, which, like the front is

adorned with statues. The one in the middle above all the others

attracts the looks and admiration of every one. Pygmalion gazes at it

and sighs; he touches its feet, presses its waist, adorns its arms with

precious bracelets, and covers its neck with diamonds, and, kissing the

hands of his dear statue, shows that he is passionately in love with it.

The amorous sculptor expresses his distress in pantomime, falls into a

state of reverie, and then throwing himself at the feet of a statue of

Venus, prays to the goddess to animate his beloved figure.

"The goddess answers his prayer. Three flashes of light are seen, and to

an appropriate symphony the marble beauty emerges by degrees from her

state of insensibility. To the surprise of Pygmalion and his pupils she

becomes animated, and evinces her astonishment at her new existence, and

at the objects by which she is surrounded. The delighted Pygmalion

extends his hand to her; she feels, so to speak, the ground beneath her

with her feet, and takes some timid steps in the most elegant attitudes

that sculpture could suggest. Pygmalion dances before her, as if to

instruct her; she repeats her master's steps, from the easiest to the

most difficult. He endeavours to inspire her with the tenderness he

feels himself, and succeeds in making her share that sentiment. You can

understand, sir, what all the passages of this action become, executed

and danced with the fine and delicate grace of Mdlle. Sallé. She

ventured to appear without basket, without skirt, without a dress, in

her natural hair, and with no ornament on her head. She wore nothing, in

addition to her boddice and under-petticoat, but a simple robe of

muslin, arranged in drapery after the model of a Greek statue.

"You cannot doubt, sir, of the prodigious success this ingenious ballet,

so well executed, obtained. At the request of the king, the queen, the

royal family, and all the court, it will be performed on the occasion

of Mademoiselle Sallé's benefit, for which all the boxes and places in

the theatre and amphitheatre have been taken for a month past. The

benefit takes place on the first of April.

"Do not expect that I can describe to you Ariadne like Pygmalion: its

beauties are more noble and more difficult to relate; the expressions

and sentiments are those of the profoundest grief, despair, rage and

utter dejection; in a word all the great passions perfectly declaimed by

means of dances, attitudes and gestures suggested by the position of a

woman who is abandoned by the man she loves. You may announce, sir, that

Mademoiselle Sallé becomes in this piece the rival of the Journets, the

Duclos, and the Lecouvreurs. The English, who preserve so tender a

recollection of their famous Oldfield, whom they have just laid in

Westminster Abbey among their great statesmen (!) look upon her as

resuscitated in Mademoiselle Sallé when she represents Ariadne.

"P. S. The first of this month the Prince of Orange, accompanied by the

Prince of Wales, the Duke of Cumberland and the Princesses, went to

Covent Garden Theatre [Théâtre du Commun Jardin the French newspaper

has it] to see the tragedy of King Henry IV., when there was a numerous

assembly; and all the receipts of the representation were for the

benefit of Mademoiselle Sallé."



M. Castil Blaze, who publishes the whole of the above letter, with the

exception of the postscript, in his history of the Académie Royale, is

wrong in concluding from Mademoiselle Sallé having appeared at Covent

Garden, that she was engaged to dance there by Handel, who was at that

time director of the Queen's Theatre (reign of Anne) in the Haymarket.

M. Victor Schoelcher may also be in error when, in speaking of the

absurd fable that Handel being in Paris heard a canticle by Lulli,[10]

and coming back to England gave it to the English, as God Save the King,

he assures us that Handel never set foot in Paris at all. It is certain

that Handel went to Italy to engage new singers in 1733, and it is by no

means improbable that he passed through Paris on his way. At all events,

M. Castil Blaze assures us that in that year he visited the Académie

Royale de Musique, and that "while lavishing sarcasms and raillery on

our French Opera," he appreciated the talent of Mademoiselle Sallé. "A

thousand crowns (three thousand francs) was the sum," he continues,

"that the virtuose asked for composing two ballets and dancing in them

at London during the carnival of 1734. The director of a rival

enterprise watched for her arrival in that city, and offered her three

thousand guineas instead of the three thousand crowns which she had

agreed to accept from Handel; adding that nothing prevented her from

making this change, inasmuch as she had signed no engagement. 'And my

word,' answered the amiable dancer; 'is my word to count for nothing?'

This reply, applauded and circulated from mouth to mouth, prepared

Mademoiselle Sallé's success, and had the most fortunate influence on

the representation given for her benefit. All the London journals gave

magnificent accounts of the triumphs of Marie Taglioni, and of the marks

of admiration and gratitude that she received. Equally flattering

descriptions reached us from the icy banks of the Neva. Mere trifles,

niaiseries, debolleze! This furore, this enthusiasm, this

fanaticism, this royal, imperial liberality was very little, or rather

was nothing, in comparison with the homage which the sons of Albion

offered to and lavished upon the divine Sallé. History tells us that at

the representation given for her benefit people fought at the doors of

the theatre; that an infinity of amateurs were obliged to conquer at the

point of the sword, or at least with their fists, the places which had

been sold to them by auction, and at exorbitant prices. As Mademoiselle

Sallé made her last curtsey and smiled upon the pit with the most

charming grace, furious applause burst forth from all parts and seemed

to shake the theatre to its foundation. While the whirlwind howled,

while the thunder roared, a hailstorm of purses, full of gold, fell upon

the stage, and a shower of bonbons followed in the same direction. These

bonbons, manufactured at London, were of a singular kind; guineas--not

like the doubloons, the louis d'or in paste, that are exhibited in the

shop-windows of our confectioners, but good, genuine guineas in metal

of Peru, well and solidly bound together--formed the sweetmeat; the

papillote was a bank-note. Projectiles a thousand times, and again a

thousand times precious. Arguments which sounded still when the fugitive

tempest of applause was at an end. Our favourite virtuoses place now

on their heads, after pressing them for a moment to their hearts, the

wreaths thrown to them by an electrified public. Mademoiselle Sallé put

the proofs of gratitude offered by her host of admirers into her pockets

or rather into bags. The light and playful troop of little Loves who

hovered around the new dancer, picked up the precious sugar-plums as

they fell, and eight dancing satyrs carried away in cadence the

improvised treasures. This performance brought Mademoiselle Sallé more

than two hundred thousand francs."

What M. Castil Blaze tells us about the bonbons of guineas and

bank-notes may or may not be true--I have no means of judging--but it is

not very likely that eight dancing satyrs appeared on the stage at

Mademoiselle Sallé's benefit, inasmuch as the ballet given on that

occasion was not Bacchus and Ariadne, as M. Castil Blaze evidently

supposes, but Pygmalion. The London correspondent of the Mercure de

France has mentioned that Pygmalion was to be performed by desire of

"the king and the queen, the royal family, and all the court," and

naturally that was the piece selected. According to the letter in the

Mercure the benefit was fixed for the first of April; indeed, the

writer in his postscript speaks of it as having taken place on that day,

but he says nothing about purses of gold, nor does he speak of guineas

wrapped up in bank-notes.

It appears from the Daily Journal that Mademoiselle Sallé took her

benefit on the 21st of March (which would be April 1, New Style), when

the first piece was Henry IV., with the humours of Sir John Falstaff,

and the second Pigmalion (with a Pig). It was announced that on this

occasion "servants would be permitted to keep places on the stage,"

whereas in most of the Covent Garden play bills of the period the

following paragraph appears:--"It is desired that no person will take it

ill their not being admitted behind the scenes, it being impossible to

perform the entertainment unless these passages are kept clear."


At this time Handel was at the Queen's Theatre, and it was not until the

next year, long after Mademoiselle Sallé had left England, that he moved

to Covent Garden. The rival who is represented as having offered such

magnificent terms to Mademoiselle Sallé with the view of tempting her

from her allegiance to Handel, must have been, if any one, Porpora;

though if M. Castil Blaze could have identified him as that celebrated

composer he would certainly have mentioned the name. Porpora, who

arrived in England in 1733, was in 1734 director of the "Nobility's

Theatre" in Lincoln's-Inn Fields.

The following is the announcement of Mademoiselle Sallé's first

appearance in England:--

"AT THE THEATRE ROYAL COVENT GARDEN, On Monday, 11th March, will be

performed a Comedy, called "The WAY of the WORLD, by the late

Mr. Congreve, with entertainments of dancing, particularly the

Scottish dance by Mr. Glover and Mrs. Laguerre, Mr. le Sac, and

Miss Boston, M. de la Garde and Mrs. Ogden.

"The French Sailor and his Lass, by Mademoiselle Sallé and Mr.


"The Nassau, by Mr. Glover and Miss Rogers, Mr. Pelling and Miss

Nona, Mr. Le Sac and Mrs. Ogden, Mr. de la Garde and Miss Batson.

"With a new dance, called Pigmalion, performed by Mr. Malter and

Mademoiselle Sallé, M. Dupré, Mr. Pelling, Mr. Duke, Mr. le Sac,

Mr. Newhouse, and M. de la Garde.

"No servants will be permitted to keep places on the stage."

It appears that at the King's Theatre on the night of Mademoiselle

Sallé's benefit, at Covent Garden, there was "an assembly." "Two

tickets," says the advertisement, "will be delivered to every

subscriber, this day, at White's Chocholate House, in St. James's

Street, paying the subscription-money; and if any tickets remain more

than are subscribed for, they will be delivered the same day at the

Opera office in the Haymarket, at six and twenty shillings each.

"Every ticket will admit either one gentleman or two ladies.

"N. B.--Five different doors will be opened at twelve for the company to

go out, where chairs will easily be had.

N. B.--To prevent a crowd there will be but 700 tickets printed."

I find from the collection of old newspapers before me, that Handel,

whose Ariadne was first produced and whose Pastor Fido was revived

in 1734, is called in the playbills of the King's Theatre "Mr. Handell."

The following is the announcement of the performance given at that

establishment on the 4th June, 1734, "being the last time of performing

till after the holidays."

"AT the KING'S THEATRE in the HAYMARKET, on Tuesday next, being the 4th

day of June will be performed an Opera called


Composed by Mr. Handell, intermixed with Choruses.

The Scenery after a particular manner.

Pit and Boxes will be put together, and no persons to be admitted

without tickets, which will be delivered that day at the Office of the

Haymarket, at half a guinea each.


[Sidenote: MR. HANDELL.]


No persons whatever to be admitted behind the scenes.

To begin at half an hour after six o'clock."

Handel had now been twenty-four years in London where he had raised the

Italian Opera to a pitch of excellence unequalled elsewhere in Europe,

except perhaps at Dresden, which during the first half of the 18th

century was universally celebrated for the perfection of its operatic

performances at the Court Theatre directed by Hasse. But of the

introduction of Italian Opera into England, and especially of the

arrival of Handel, his operatic enterprises, his successes and his

failures, I must speak in another chapter.