The Indecent Waltz

We remarked with pain that the indecent foreign dance called the “waltz” was introduced (we believe for the first time) at the English court on Friday last. This is a circumstance which ought not to be passed over in silence. National morals depend on national habits: and it is quite sufficient to cast one’s eyes on the voluptuous intertwining of the limbs and close compressure on the bodies, in their dance, to see that it is indeed far removed from the modest reserve which has hitherto been considered distinctive of English females. So long as this obscene display was confined to prostitutes and adulteresses, we did not think it deserving of notice; but now that it is attempted to be forced on the respectable classes of society by the evil examples of their superiors, we feel it a duty to warn every parent against exposing his daughter to so fatal a contagion…We owe a due reverence to superiors in rank, but we owe a higher duty to morality. We know not how it has happened (probably by the recommendation of some worthless and ignorant French dancing master) that so indecent a dance has now been exhibited at the English Court; but the novelty is one deserving of severe reprobation, and we trust it will never again be tolerated in any moral English society.

The Times, July 1816 editorial.

Herbert Gustave Schmalz: Zenobia’s last look on Palmyra, 1888

Zenobia’s last look on Palmyra

In 1888, Herbert Gustave Schmalz, son of a German father and an English mother, was thirty-two years old and had established a reputation as a painter of histories. Two years later, he would travel to Jerusalem and mainly paint New Testament themes for a while.

William Wordsworth: London, 1802

MILTON! thou shouldst be living at this hour:
England hath need of thee: she is a fen
Of stagnant waters: altar, sword, and pen,
Fireside, the heroic wealth of hall and bower,

Have forfeited their ancient English dower
Of inward happiness. We are selfish men;
Oh! raise us up, return to us again;
And give us manners, virtue, freedom, power.

Thy soul was like a Star, and dwelt apart:
Thou hadst a voice whose sound was like the sea:
Pure as the naked heavens, majestic, free,

So didst thou travel on life’s common way,
In cheerful godliness; and yet thy heart
The lowliest duties on herself did lay.

Benedetto Gennari II: Cleopatra, 1674–75

Benedetto Gennari II hails from a dynasty of painters, going back to his grandfather who bears the same name. He studied under Guercino in Bologna and inherited his studio in 1666. But he was a restless spirit, and his admiration for the Sun King drove him to Paris six years later. The French nobility received him with open arms, and the multitude of commissions encouraged him to prolong his stay.

In September 1674, he moved to London where he became court painter to King Charles II. This is one of the first paintings he created in his new position.

Arthur Symons: Bianca

HER cheeks are hot, her cheeks are white;
The white girl hardly breathes to-night,
So faint the pulses come and go,
That waken to a smouldering glow
The morbid faintness of her white.

What drowsing heats of sense, desire
Longing and languorous, the fire
Of what white ashes, subtly mesh
The fascinations of her flesh
Into a breathing web of fire?

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Sir Joshua Reynolds: Self-Portrait, 1780

The second but last of the many self-portraits of Sir Joshua Reynolds, 1780, when he was fifty-seven years old.

Sir Joshua Reynolds - Venus (1785)

This Venus from 1785 is one of the very few mythological pieces by Sir Joshua Reynolds, and one of the very few nudes.

Valentine Cameron Prinsep: The First Awakening of Eve

Valentine Cameron Prinsep: The First Awakening of Eve, 114 × 135 cm, exhibited at the Royal Academy in London 1889, sold at Christie’s London for £35,850 in June 2004.

Sir Joshua Reynolds: Thaïs

Thaïs was a hetaera from Athens, companion of Alexander’s general Ptolemy, who would later become King of Egypt. She was witty and entertaining, and Alexander liked her a lot. Her claim to fame, if you want to call it that, was to have instigated Alexander to destroy the palaces of Persepolis in drunken revelry.

Thaïs appears in some works of art and literature, usually as Alexander’s, not Ptolemy’s, lover. She seems to have been especially popular in England for a while. In 1697, John Dryden wrote an ode Alexander’s Feast, or the Power of Music, which was put into music by Jeremiah Clarke, a score that is now lost. In 1736, Georg Friedrich Händel composed an ode Alexander’s Feast with a libretto by Newburgh Hamilton, based on Dryden’s earlier work. And in 1781, she became the heroine of one of the first English history paintings, an art that was only just developing in England at the time.

The model for Sir Joshua Reynolds’ Thaïs was sixteen year old Amy Lyon, who would later become famous as Emma, Lady Hamilton, Lord Nelson’s mistress.

William Blake: London

I wander thro’ each charter’d street,
Near where the charter’d Thames does flow,
And mark in every face I meet
Marks of weakness, marks of woe.

In every cry of every Man,
In every Infant’s cry of fear,
In every voice, in every ban,
The mind-forg’d manacles I hear.

How the Chimney-sweeper’s cry
Every black’ning Church appalls;
And the hapless Soldier’s sigh
Runs in blood down Palace walls.

But most thro’ midnight streets I hear
How the youthful Harlot’s curse
Blasts the new born Infant’s tear,
And blights with plagues the Marriage hearse.


Written in 1792.

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