The Colonel’s masked ball in 1840 with the Louis Quatorze theme was written about in many places. I’ve outlined the evening in two earlier posts but I think it’s worth sharing other accounts of the night, so that we can see exactly what an incredible event it was. Here is a version of the evening from Le Beau Monde. I’ve used Google translate, so the phrasing will be a little awkward, but it’s clear enough to paint a picture:
…as well shared in terms of fortune as in that of beauty: I will have said enough by naming Mme de Varennes (they mean de Varaigne), Mme Thorn young and Miss Jenny Thorn (I’m assuming this is Jane Mary). — For us who do not like these public pleasures where the first for its part and where no one is having fun, who do not understand the Opera despite its thousand lights and its monster orchestra, the carnival threatened this year to go unnoticed; it seemed that those crazy reminiscences of the month of February that we understand and glorify so well in Venice and Rome were driven from our beautiful Paris by I know not what Puritan influence; so the announcement of Colonel Thorn’s nocturnal feast stirred up all coquetry and all dreams, and I will be careful not to say how many hearts of young women and girls have throbbed deliciously at the approaching this magical evening.
How many imaginations have beaten the countryside in search of a disguise or a fantasy! With what importance and with what love we meditated on the style of his hairstyle or the physiognomy of his costume! But more than one hairdresser was lacking, more than one seamstress was surprised by the time that flees quickly in front of the pleasure, and among all these beautiful guests, more than one, alas! waited for his chaperone or his robe, while his horses pawed impatiently in the courtyard and in Mr. Thorn’s salons the various acts of the feast succeeded one another, rushed towards the denouement.
However, in the aristocratic salons, I do not know what noise was whispered in the ear like a confidence, and stirred up everything; you would have seen the faces of our ladies come alive, and their eyelids lowered like screens, to hide the sudden flame of their impatient eyes, they have all their keel; they locked up their seamstresses; they observed each other; they have deployed all the paraphernalia of feminine cunning to penetrate each other, to mutually tear out their secrets. But the secrets of coquetry are perhaps the only ones that women keep well. The activity, the commotion has spread everywhere. Now, I am going to tell you the mysterious word which caused such an astonishing revolution: “There is a ball at Mr. Thorn’s.”
People of his family, as kind as they are beautiful and gracious, Madame de Varennes, Madame Thorn young and Mlle Jenny Thorn, run to do the honors of a residence worthy of a prince. Colonel Thorn is said to be excessively scrupulous in the choice of his invitations. A rigorous agenda fixes the outfit, without which one remains plunged into the outer darkness, where there are weeping and moans of spite. We are therefore certain that in Colonel Thorn, we only find the very best of the aristocracy.
The doors of the two large drawing-rooms opened with a crash; a dizziness of dazzling seized the eyes; all the senses are exalted, fascinated, intoxicated. Here we are in an instant, stepped back a century, transported to the happy days when women were queens. The skimpy clothes, the stiff ties, the trivialities of our costume have given way to poetic and sumptuous clothes; the feathers, the lace, the flies, the powder, the baskets, the red heels have returned.
Here are tender shepherds and shepherdesses, in love and covered with pink ribbons as in the pastorals of Fontenelle. It seems that the tapestries sigh, that the sofas groan, that the shrubs coo. Here is the Duc de Richelieu passing by. Is it! Madame de Lafayette or Mlle d’Entraigues whom I see over there? Doubtless Mignard, Boucher or Valteau are in some corner, and grind their colors. Tomorrow, the Mercure de France will tell you all the details of the party. In the meantime, we will try to guess some of the people who throng in Spanish, Jewish, Neapolitan, Arab costumes in this gallant salon, lit a giorno, and decorated with all the refinements of the most incredible luxury.
We will first point out to you the Princess de Beaufrernonl, so attractive in her fancy costume, and Madame de Chateuay, as a delicious Marquise de Pompadour; then, Madame Baroness Anselme de Rotschild, who seemed to have borrowed from Isabeau of Bavaria her dress of cloth of gold and her pearl diadem. With the soft pallor of her complexion, the melancholy graces of her person and her picturesque dress, one would have taken the Princess of Belgiojoso for a Greek victim escaped from the flames of Praga. A smile of love seemed to envelop the Marquise de Poldi (below), who became Princess of Esté and Duchess of Ferrara.
Many ladies had, as in the story, dresses the color of the sun and the color of the moon. The cool Marquise d’Alcnnize veiled her charms under the somber majesty of Night; silver stars studded the vaporous black gauze of her dress, and the diadem of the queen with the pale forehead shone in her hair, represented by a brilliant crescent. An incomparable mermaid costume made the attractions of the Countess de Marescalchi even more spicy, already so famous for her beauty when she was still only a Demoiselle de Pange. She had an underside dress of silver cloth; the one above was of a fine gauze white and transparent like a crystal stream, on which seemed to play a multitude of plants and small aquatic flowers. M. Antonin de Noailles had become a Templar.
Literature was represented by Mr. Eugene Sue, under the black velvet doublet of Torquato Tasso. And then it was a crowd, a mob, so fantastic, so marvelous, so dizzying, that nothing could be detailed. We could hardly distinguish, at times, a few female illustrations: Mme Lehon, as an Amazon; Mme La Ferté, as a marquise; Miss de Miraflores, in gypsy; Lady Dorsay, Miss Collier, Miss Rolly, M de Brignolles, as fiancées of Àjbydos; M” de Noailles and Mlle de Koneritz, as Jewish; Mlle d’Apogy, as a Hungarian peasant; Lady Georgina, as a clay farmer; Miss MacFarlen, as a rosebush; Mrae the Princess deLingua Glossa and Mlle de Rotschild, as Roman villagers; Madame la Baronne Delamare and Mrae de Courval, huntresses in the time of Louis XIII; the Duchesses of Talleyrand, Berwick and Valençay; the Princess Rausumofsky, the Duchess of Valério, appeared covered with fire, so much were they dripping with precious stones.
A young man of sixteen to eighteen, the son of the Duchess of Berwick, was much noticed; he wore, like a page of the Emperor Maximilen, the satin justaucorps and the frill of the formidable Ferdinand Alvarez of Toledo, Duke of Alba, his ancestor. M. de Mareuil wore one of the finest clothes of the century of Louis XIV. Leduc d’Ossune was in Philippe II; Count Charles de Mornay, as a great Swedish lord; M. Anatole de Demidoff, in Russian Tartar; M. de Varennes (de Varaigne) and M. Heanich, in Arabs; finally, the Dukes of Valençay and Dino, as lords of the court of William of Orange.
There was a confusion of good quality cordon bleu (blue ribbon) captains of the guards, of the Scots, of Louis XIII, of Louis XIV, of Louis XV; Pompadours, elegant, powdered, pampered, with flies and without flies, smiling and smirking at the officers of the French guards, who told them gallant words. Finally, the Versailles of the last century was there, alive, with its gallantry, its lavishness, its luxury, its urbanity and its inimitable follies.
A murmur of acclamations rose like wildfire igniting the passage of the beautiful Marquise de Salvio, who had risked the brocaded, embroidered silk skirt, shimmering with colors and the blue satin bodice of sky enhanced with peasant orders from the Sabine, when suddenly a burst of fanfares is heard; the doors of the great gallery open their flaps, the air resounds with the whip of the postilions, and six men, transformed into centaurs, enter, dragging after them a delicious little chariot which contains, guess who? the lioness of the day, the queen of the lionesses, the lovely Duchess of Dino (below), sparkling with diamonds and flooded with flowers.
A very famous Templar offers her his hand to descend, and immediately the dances begin. Finally, like the bouquet of this kind of fireworks display, unexpectedly shines the Countess Samoïloff, covered with pearls, rubies and diamonds, as well as a sultana from the Thousand and One Nights. Renaissance hat, with three rows of pearls like hazelnuts; crown of diamonds, the size of pigeon eggs; shoes covered with rubies and diamonds to shame the famous boots of the Prince of Esterhaszy or the scarlet boots of the husband of Queen Victoria, which however cost perhaps even more than the cursed boots of a certain Japanese.
Some enthusiasts wanted to put out the candles, in order to make sure if the countess was not enough to light up the living room; but we confined ourselves to admiring with care this garment in diamond sauce, and Madame Samoïloff was unanimously valued at three million five hundred thousand francs. At this very moment, thieves who had entered the hotel of the Marquis de Salivo, were removing the jewelry and all the silverware. We know that Prince d’Esterhazy’s boots are covered with diamonds and are worth a hundred thousand crowns; the boots offered by the Queen of England to her husband are not less extravagantly rich.
What would I say to you of the dissection evenings in the rue de la Chaussée-d’Anlin, where, among other amusements, a perfectly imitated wax corpse is brought in, each part of which is easily dismantled; which is so carried away with any idea of disgust that ladies do not hesitate to become anatomists? What would I say to you of this little coquette of Notre-Dame-de-Lorette church, whose angels and saints are always in the latest fashion, who dares to play the prude, and refuses to bury an actor ? What is the point of talking to you about the little evenings where the waltz has been slipped into two stages? Everything is erased in front of this terrible colonel who dresses as a king, and who takes for motto: Nec pluribus impari
The minuets, the gallops, the mazourques, the follies of all kinds continued until morning. We still danced between the indecisive light of the dawning day and the dying gleams of burnt candles, while far away, in another world, perhaps the hurricane was destroying a French town, and enveloping the inhabitants under the rubble of their houses; while French soldiers were slaughtered in the shadows by the Arabs, and some poor artist, ignominiously ousted by the jury’s malocchio, painfully, and with coldness in his heart, began a new work.