Dignity Ball

I went on shore, as a matter of course, and traversed several parts of the city, which I had not yet seen, but I found nothing new to note down for your information. In the evening we (i.e. the Master, Mate, Alfred Snell & our passenger M.r Bowring) were attracted by the sound of the violin, and the appearance of many figures gliding like ghosts thro’ a well lighted room. We stopped at the door for a little time, when we were politely requested to walk up stairs. This offer we accepted as it held out some prospect of amusement. Up stairs then we went, and were ushered into a room, where were assembled a pretty considerable number of persons, male & female, tripping it away on the light fantastic toe. We thought at first, that we had been introduced to witness a ball. No such thing. This was only a Dignity or Hop. The difference between a dignity and ball we were told was this – that at a ball all were expected to appear in full dress – to be on their P’s & Q’s, that there must be a full band of music – and an abundant supply of wines & other refreshments – whereas at a dignity you might come in any dress – & you were not to expect to have supper – this being solely for amusement & not for display. In short I should compare dignities to rehearsals, and balls to the night of performance.

On this occasion upwards of 30 were assembled – they had a very excellent band of music – and mirth & dancing were the order of the night. The dancing as really very superior. I would not say that heaven was in all their eyes – but perhaps with truth, that grace was in all their motions. The lowest slave exhibited herself  to as much advantage as her free companions – and probably had paid money to receive lessons from celebrated professeurs. The passion for this exercise is beyond all belief – so that you might describe the coloured or black person by the generic term of a dancing animal. Quadrilles – waltzes & some slow Spanish dances seemed to be the favourites. Hour after hour passes away and finds them still untired, still unsatiated. In vain do poor human bodies announce that they are exhausted – in vain do they shed tears of sweat – the mind predominant over matter, sustained by excitement, disregards all intimation of bodily languor, and forces the tired limbs to perform the motions of the dances. At home the fan is in constant requisition – but the fan alone – but here the handkerchief is essential if not more so than the fan, to wipe away the fast falling perspiration to be replaced next by a more copious supply. The ladies might be compared to the Nereids, when they uplift themselves above the ocean waves dripping with the brine – and oh how unromantic & unlovely it is to gaze upon the bounteous features of your partner & behold the unbidden drop trickle slowly down nose and cheek, in constant succession, like the small running streams in the features of a landscape. What alas would be the effects if such things were so in England. Adieu, a long adieu then to Cosmetics, which would preserve their bloom, no longer than till they entered the melting atmosphere of the ball room.

We were all much delighted with the moving scene before us, but would not in spite of the repeated invitations of the dames & demoiselles join in threading the mazes of the entrancing dance … We had melting moments even as we sat, and had no fancy to add to the already superabundant moisture, by any unnecessary display of our salutatory powers and capabilities. We left with regret the assembly hours before they would break up, being obliged to go on board – but not before we had contributed our mite towards paying the musicians and the expense of lights.

The weather during the day was squally but the afternoon was fine.

Friday 23rd August – the scene on board our Packet to day was but a counterpart of that of yesterday. If possible there was more hurry and bustle, because their time was drawing short. The weather being very fine, I was on shore all day and enjoyed myself considerably. At 4 P.M. I returned on board with the Master, who had received the Mail and at 4.40, having cleared the ship out & out of its late noisy occupiers, we set sail for S.tLucie, the next Island in our route.

Saturday 24th – it is always customary to leave Barbadoes in the afternoon, in order to be able to make S.t Lucia early in the morning. This with any breeze at all, you are certain of accomplishing – nor were [we] an exception to this general remark. When I turned out and came upon deck, I found fine weather, and that we were sailing along the above mentioned Island with the Island of Martinique in view. In the following rough and ready sketch, which I propose to give of S.t Lucia, and the other places we touched at, you are to consider what I say not as an account of the Island in general, but being true of those parts of them, which successively came under my observation. In some points there may be errors, which a more intimate acquaintance with the localities would have enabled me to avoid – all that I pledge myself  to is this, that my remarks are a faithful transcript of the impressions I received thro’ the medium of my own senses.

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