And still the infamy of the Masked Ball of 1840 continues!
This is taken from a letter by writer and journalist by Delphine de Girardin. It’s a fascinating perspective on Colonel Thorn’s motivations for the extravagant entertaining he did. If the author is in any way correct, then it begs the question why? Why spend a good part of your life challenging the artifice of high society, while enjoying the trappings of it? There’s a kind of perversity and mischieviousness about this behaviour that makes me curious. The statement “his contempt of greatness” is likely a reaction to the strict social morays of the monied classes.
The costume ball which is to take place at Mr. Thorn’s is still the great occupation of the moment; he struggles victoriously in conversations with the ministerial crisis. To be admitted to this party, disguise is required. They even went so far as to maintain that the ambassadors would go in uniform; but one of them replied with great propriety that his uniform was not a disguise.
Indeed, the mixture would have been pleasant, and the story of this evening would have offered spicy contrasts. One would have said: ” Mr. such was a postilion of Longjumeau, and his brother a lieutenant general; Madame so-and-so was a shepherdess and her husband was a peer of France; Mademoiselle de *** was in Chinese and her father was a Councilor of State.
It was therefore decided that the grave personages, that is to say the ambassadors, the ministers and the married men would be admitted in frac [tailcoats]; but for the others, that is to say for the celibates, one is pitiless; they can only enter in disguise, all without exception. The alternative is cruel. We know aa man of wit that the idea of dressing up as a troubadour or a Turk so terrified that he suddenly decided to get married. He had initially thought of being a minister, but the ministerial crises were so long that he feared he was not ready for the ball.
The newspapers, which often speak of Mr. Thorn, which allows us to speak of him, claim that French high society has adopted the wealthy American . They are all wrong. On the contrary, it is the rich American who has been willing to adopt French high society, and it is he alone who invents and imposes the conditions for adoption. There are some very amusing ones.
For example, Mr. Thorn decreed that after ten o’clock we would no longer enter his home. The door is therefore closed at ten o’clock. You are late: you have dined, by chance, with witty people; the conversation continued beyond the fatal moment. You arrive at Mr. Thorn. It is five minutes past ten … we send you back … Has there been any accident? – No. – Is the concert postponed? – No. You hear people always singing, and besides the street, the courtyard, are full of cars. There are two hundred people in the living room. – Why then do we have to go? – Because such is the good pleasure of the master. – And why did he choose this singularity? – Because it contrasts with the mania of another millionaire his rival, who, him, does not want us to come to his house before ten o’clock. – And the great Parisian world gently submits to all these requirements.
He runs to this one before ten o’clock, he goes to that one after ten o’clock; and he endures these whims without complaint … It is true that he cries scandal when Mr. the Duke of Orleans demands that we do not come in boots to his wife. Then his indignation cannot be contained; and in his anger, confusing times and people, he calls the royal prince a parvenu!
As a philosopher, Mr. Thorn is one of the most interesting characters to observe of our time. No one has ever pushed further than him the contempt of greatness, if not that of greatness. Nothing is more curious than the way he leads everyone; nothing smarter than the cruelty with which he forces you, to enter his home, to do the most painful sacrifices, sometimes to strip you without saying a word of the only quality which makes up your power.
Are you a great lord, he will make you wait an hour in his living room, or he subjects you to the most rigid exactitude; Finally, he will demand from you a childish condescension which will deprive you of your dignity. Are you a vain, rich and stingy woman, he will force you to choose a disguise of an insane price. Are you a serious man, a man of intelligence, he will make you dress like an acrobat and be silly and ridiculous all evening, and we add all the life; and that for him is not a banter, it is a deep study, a series of philosophical tests that we for our part follow with great curiosity.
Mr. Thorn asked himself these two questions: To know how far the complacency of the selfish and the humility of the proud can go in France; – and what can be done with the flattery and platitudes of rich people who do not want to give parties to be invited to a man who is willing to give them.
To complete these experiences, the ingenious merchant could risk more grotesque trials! Hey! My God, tomorrow he would put on his invitation tickets: We will only enter in a cotton cap , which all the high Parisian society will come to him in a cotton cap . We are well aware that we would manage to compromise with the cotton cap. Some would have it embroidered, some would garnish it with lace, others would cover it with flowers and diamonds. These would have wicks of gold, those wicks of pearls; but true flatterers would wear it in pure cotton, with the headdress and the fontange.