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PHILADELPHIA, JANUARY, 1849.
THE BELLE OF THE OPERA.
AN ESSAY UPON WOMAN'S ACCOMPLISHMENT, HER CHARACTER AND HER MISSION.
BY JOSEPH R. CHANDLER.
It is not a small thing to be an engaged writer for ephemeral subjects-must make the fashions of a magazine that has admittance into numerous fami- female dresses a leading and permanent matter of Ties, and, by the costliness and adaptation of its deco- thought-must recommend amusements as matters rations, and the general proclivity of its contents, is of life-consideration, and erect the finer arts as an in no small degree the handbook of young females. image of universal worship.”
A good book, an octavo or quarto, upon sound We say plainly that we differ from those who make morals or religious doctrines comes like a wholesome this estimate of periodical literature. We cannot breeze, “stealing and giving odors”—but then, like consent to such a degrading standard for the monthly that breeze, it is only occasional--a current rushing press-we certainly will not submit ourselves or our in but rarely, and seldom finding the right object pen to this shortening process of the Procrustean within its healthful influence. But the magazine is bed of literature-we will do what we can to keep the atmosphere in which the inmates dwell; they are " Graham's Magazine” from such debasement-we constantly within its influence, and their general life, will do it for the long established character of the Their mental sanative properties become imbued with periodical, and for what we think it capable of-we its qualities : And this is the more important as the will do it for our own credit-and, most of all, we influence is commenced at home, and upon the will do it for the good of that large portion of society female portion ; so that it becomes constantly, per- to which this magazine supplies the mental pabulum. manently, and extensively operative upon, and when we furnish forth the table of those who look through others.
to our catering, we will take care that there shall be The writers for this magazine seem to have been no poison in the ingredients, no " death in the pot." impressed with this idea of these consequences, and But in a secular magazine there must be light hence the importance of their contributions; or the reading-all, or nearly all, the contents must be editor has been exceedingly careful in his winnow- of a kind addressed to the fancy as well as the ing, to allow nothing to pass the sieve that might be understanding-and consequently of a character to productive of evil in the field which he is called to excite the censure, or at least forbid the approach, of cultivate.
the ascetic. Nay, it musi greatly differ from the The writer of this article is deeply impressed with class of periodical literature devoted 10, and sustained The importance of his position, and the danger of an upon sectarian religious grounds. The task, the error. A magazine that is devoted to taste, the arts labor of the magazine editor is to sustain the high and the fashions, it would seem, from the opinions moral tone of his work, and yet have it the vehicle of some, must be in a great degree light, and in no of fashion, taste and the arts—to take the pure, the degree instructive, save in the very subject of taste, good, and the beneficial, and give to them attractions fashion and the arts, to which it is ostensibly devoted, for the young and gay–or, to take that which is and according to the general acceptation of the words, attractive for the young and the gay, and make it the taste and fashion, and the ordinary uses to which the vehicle of high moral truth-of sober, solid reflection, arts are applied.
the means of heart-improvement, and the promoter “A magazine, then, of polite literature, of the arts of home joys—to overlay the book with gold, and and fashions, must be for the day-must treat of with sculptured cherubim, and all the magnificence
of taste and ingenuity—but to be sure that within forms of things so unknown,) and marked upon all are the prophet's rod—the shew-bread of the altar- the display“ vanity and vexation of spirit"The and the written law of truth.
very display, and especially the place of the display, Our sense of the duty of a magazine writer of the warranting the conclusion. present time, is rather hinted ihan set forth in the We confess that we have looked at The Belle of above remarks. The subject is one that might com- the Opera until our mind has arrived at other conclumand the pages of a volume, and if properly bandled sions. We think it fair to conclude that so lovely a would be made eminently useful to writers and to face, and such a majestic form, are at least prima readers. Our attention was awakened to the subject facie evidence of an elevated and beautiful mind, by an examination of the exquisitely executed pic and that the enjoyment of opera music, nowhere to ture of “THE BELLE OF THE Opera,” with which that be enjoyed but at the opera, is by no means inconaccomplished artist, W. E. Tucker, has enriched the sistent with that elevation or that beauty. Music, present number of this Magazine. We do not know that constitutes half our worship on earth, and all in that he who drew the figure had such a thought in heaven, shall that be regarded in itself as a sin or a his head as the improvement of magazine literature; means of degradation ? and it is probable that Tucker when he exhausted "But the display of the person, the vanity of the the powers of engraving, or almost all its powers, 10 dress, the folly of the personal exhibition, these are produce the figure, was impressed rather with the against the character and usefulness of the Belle—" importance of his contribution to the artistic im- How so? There is certainly no improper diminuportance of periodicals, than to the high moral influ- tion of dress. The most that can be said is, that a ence which he was aiding to promote.. But true beautiful woman, beautifully dressed, is sitting in genius, wherever exercised, is suggestive-and the the front seat of an opera-box, surrounded by hunbeautifully drawn figure is as promotive of useful dreds of persons of both sexes, who have come with reflection as the best composed essay. Hence the the same ostensible object, and who sit equally exfine arts and literature are allied-allied in their ele- posed. vating influence upon the possessors, and their power But it is the exceeding beauty of the person and of meliorating and improving the minds of the unini- the elegance of the dress that make her conspicuous; tiated. Hence they go hand in hand in the path of and it is that conspicuousness which constitutes the usefulne-s—hence they are united in this Magazine. ground of censure.
The Belle of the Opera! Will the reader turn back But fortunately The Belle of the Opera did not once more and look at the picture? How full of life- make herself beautiful. Those elegant proportions, how much of thought-how self-possessed-how de- those enticing charms, are the gift of lim who sirable for the possession of others—how conscious made human beings in his own image, and let it be of charis--and yet how charmed with the lasteful confessed that half the elegance of the dress is attriobjects represented.
butable to the elegance of the form which it covers, The Delle of the Opera! To be that--to be “the and the exquisite beauty wbich it is not intended to observed of all observers,” in a house crowded with conceal. objects for observation, to be made preeminent by Beauty is a gift-a gist of God-like all personal or exceeding beauty is “no small thing." It must be mental endowments, dangerous, it is confessed-but, costly-it must demand large contributions from other like all, to be used for personal gratification and the portions of the possesor of the proud object. If acres promotion of social advantage. went to enrich the dress of the ancient nobility of If it is conceded to be a means of mental melioraEngland, something as desirable and as essential to tion to dwell among the beauties of artistic skill and the possessor, as those acres were to the British no- lofty architectural efforts, then surely it must be still bility, must have been sacrificed to perfect the attrac- more advantageous to be reared within the influence Lions of the Belle of the Opera. Were they social of living charms; “10 grow familiar day by day" duties? were they domestic affections ? were they with features and forms that constitute models for the means of womanly usefulness? of healthful and the representation of angels, and to pass onward almost holy operation upon the minds of others ? through life with the sense of seeing constantly imwere they prospective or present ? is present mode- proved and gratified with objects of exquisite beauty rate but growing happiness sacrificed, or is the pre- exquisitely clothed. This is viewing The Belle of sent enjoyment of distinction so greal as to balance the Opera with an artist's eye. all of iinmediate loss, and to make the sacrifice that “But,” the moralist will say, “the high office of of future peace, future happiness, future domestic woman is vacated by such a sacrifice to display, and usefulness, future social consequence, all that makes such a devotion of time to amusement. That The mature womanhood delighưful, all that makes age Belle of the Opera can never be The Bonne of the respectable and lovely ?
Nursery, and therefore woman is out of her place Such reflections and such pregnant queries arise when out of such an exercise of her faculties as shall in the mind, when we contemplate the representa- minister directly to domestic advantage." tion such loveliness, so displayed. (I might say
We take issue with the moralist on this question such loveliness displayed, for the representation is of the direct application of female faculties; and we loveliness itself.) And the moralist has taken just do this because we feel that the narrow bigotry of such a beauty, (if bis mind ever“ bodied forth” the the unenlightened, which leads them to condemn the
elegant enjoyments of life, and to ground their con- It is our intention to laud the cultivation of tastes demnation on the demand which is constant upon only as parts of the meliorating means of woman's human beings, "to do good and to communicate," is character—the acquisition or rather the improvement founded on a want of a full appreciation of female of ingredients to fit her for that office of delicate inpowers, and a mistake as to what constitutes these, Auence for which God evidently designed her. Her and their means of usefulness.
personal beauty may be a part of the means of her There will be no space for a discussion of the wholesome domestic influence-her love of, and at. measure of female duties, though it is intended 10 tainments in, music, her improvement in drawing, enter upon such a discussion hereafter; but we may her literary gifts and acquirements all go, when all say that however extensive or however limited they are mingled, to give to her consequence and usefulness may be, their discharge will be more or less effectual in the nursery, and to make her beloved and beneand complete, as she is qualified by the elegance of ficially influential in the domestic circle, and to add education, the improvement of her mind, the culti-attraction 10 her charms in social life. There is no vation and adaptation of her faculties, to impart to incompatibility between all these acquisitions with others the graces of life, and to fix them by constant great personal beauty, between a sense of that beauty, example.
indeed, and the entire fulfillment of all domestic and Virtue is embraced for its charms—it is not ad social duties, that are likely to be devolved on one mired for deformity or its negligence of mind; it thus highly endowed, thus qualified by extensive has its attractions and its means of compensation, as attainments. much as has vice-but they are not always as ob
The Belle of the Opera is at a place of refined vious. The young must be made to trust in the re- amusement, where the richest productions of musical sults of a virtuous course; they must have their faith science are properly delivered. She is dressed to fixed by the graces of parental, of maternal precept suit her own means and the place which she occuand example—and this good cannot be hoped for if pies. There is as much propriety in the proper prethe mother is incapable of attracting, if she has not sentation of her charms, as in the appropriate dethe means of charming-if, indeed, she cannot show livery of the music. The place itself is one of enthat what constitute the pleasures of life (pleasures larged social intercourse. Elegant attire is the rewhich in excess become crimes) are, while properly quisite of the place, and is due from the female (who enjoyed, wholesome and advantageous, and at the has it) to him who incurs the expense of the visitasame time can show the line of demarcation between tion, and receives the honor of her company. their uses and their abuses. She must know what “But she is admired in her display; her dress, her are the true accomplishments of life-she must un- form, the beauty of her face, attract marked attenderstand the influence of refinement and cultivation tion. She is the object of general observation.” on the mind and she must bring herself to apply all
And why not? Is it inconsistent with good taste these. She must know the difference, too, between to admire beauty? Is not the whole opera a place the uses and the abuses of cultivated talents, and she where the taste is to be improved and gratified? Is must learn to discriminate.
it music alone that is to be relished? When went She who would deny to the young the cltivation forth the decree from morals or religion that beauty of talents, musical, literary or artistic, is like the female beauty-should not be adorned? And to be beings who would pile up the snows of winter, that adorned it must be seen. the accumulated heap might prevent the budding and Let us not hear the platitudes about the worthlessthe blossoming of spring; while she who would force ness of beauty; it is not worthless—it is of high the mind of her child to an unnatural development price—of exceeding worth—of extensive usefulness ; of merely ornamental faculties, is like one who and, appropriately displayed, its influence is huwould concentrate the rays of the sun through a manizing, tranquilizing, and every way beneficial. burning-glass, in order to accelerate the growth of a To personal charms The Belle of the Opera delicate plant.
adds a cultivated taste for music-a taste which she What we mean to assert is the obvious fact, that indulges at the fountain-head of such enjoyments. the female, the mother, cannot discharge the high But does she less, on that accoușit, or rather on these responsibilities of her sex, without many of those accounts, (beauty and musical taste, namely,) fulfill acquisitions which are condemned as worthless in her mission at home? Does the lesson of virtue themselves, and perhaps the condemnation is in which the accomplished mother gives to her young some measure correct; that is, the acquisition sepa child, fall less impressively on the heart because the rately considered may be rather injurious than bene- infant pupil, in looking upward, gazes into a face ficial.
replete with all of earthly beauty ? Is there not a Music itself, if it be the only or the principal at certain coincidence between the looks of his betainment of a woman, must be valuable only as a loved teacher and the excellence of her delightful means of obtaining money or same. So of dancing-instruction ? or rather, do-s not her be uty tend to 80 of painting—so of poetry, that divine gifl—each make these lessons delightful ? And if the charm for one of these, allowed to become predominant, loses the child is the morning or evening hymn, does not its meliorating influence, and devotes the possessor the sacred simplicity of the text drop with extrato a solitary enjoyment, or, at most, assists her in ordinary unction on the ear, if conveyed in the rich acquiring notoriety and a living.
melody of a cultivated voice.
I might thus enumerate all the high attainments, / whose earlier kindness might have assisted to preand show how each becomes useful; but it is pare for that enjoyment. enough to have it understood, that the true, the Beneath the exterior of frequent devotion to admisgreat value of all these high gists and extraordinary sible pleasure, there was a depth of feeling and a cultivation is derived from their influence, when soundness of principle that sustained themselves in combined, to form the character of the possessor. all circumstances, and exhibited themselves whereThe Belle of the Opera is also The Belle of the ever their exercise was requisite, that were seen, Ball-room. The same variety of characteristics, indeed, influencing even in the midst of gayely, and without a necessity for the same altainment, marks throwing a charm around that freedom of convereach, and both are liable to be set down by a superficial sation in which those of well-regulated minds may observer, as destitute of any qualities, except those indulge. which distinguish them in the places of amusement. The virtues of The Belle of the Opera are not
May not the Belle of the Opera, or the Belle sudden, fitful, dependent upon excited feelings—they of the Ball-room, be the guardian genius of the sick are constant, influencing, ruling. They appear in chamber, the faithful, devoted director of the nursery? private conversations, they are manifest in delicate
I knew The Belle of the Opera, and she was as forbearance toward the errors of others, they exhibit fond of the dance as of the song, and shared in both themselves in unwavering attachment to known in the social circle, and enjoyed them in others in established principles, and a delicate tolerance of more public displays. Her buoyant spirits, her happy the views of friends; and they are set forth for admigayety of disposition, made her the marked object of ration by the charms of those accomplishments which admiration in all parties in which she shared—the the world admires, and which that world supposes first to propose that in which all could gracefully and to be her principal attraction. appropriately join, and the last to propound a And that world judges in this case as in most others; thought that could cast a gloom over the countenance it bas no interest in the object before it, and it is not of a single being around her. She seemed so much concerned to look into the effect of its own judgthe spirit of the joyous assembly, that serious thought, ment upon that object. Ten thousand who saw the deepth of feeling, or firm principles of good, were late laughter-moving Jefferson upon the stage, supnot suspected by those incapable of looking into the posed that he never moved without laughing himself, heart. The Belle of the Opera was deemed by such, and making others laugh. They supposed that he one set apart for the enjoyment of the opera and the must delight in and be the delight of social life; and dance, and to be without life when without these as they had nothing to do with his life off the stage, means of life's pleasures ; to have no sympathy with they never cared to correct their judgment—they her kind, excepting through music and display, and to never knew that the most pleasant of all comedians reckon none among her intimates but the light-hearted was fond of solitude, loved the quiet silence of and the gay.
angling-and was a prey to melancholy. Men may be thus exclusive, but women are not. The inward man, the man to himself, the house
Returning one night from opera or route, the hold man, the man of the fireside and social circle, is Belle entered her parlor wearied with, but not tired different from the man abroad, the man professionally, of the pleasure in which she had shared, when sud- the man to others, and this not from hypocrisy, not denly a cry of distress was heard; it was caused by from a difference of character throughout, but simply the appearance of a case of small-pox in a neigh- because the many who judge see only one phaze, boring house. At once the Belle changed her dress, and one, indeed, is all that is exhibited, all that is reand was at the bed of the sufferer.
quired to fill up the part in which the many know the “ But, madam, have you had the small-pox ?" man. But justly to judge, and fairly to decide, we “No; but I have been vaccinated.”
must see the whole man, we must know how all his “Ah! so was my sister."
relations are sustained; we must see how he dis“But evidently not well. I will tarry and assist charges the high, solemn duties of his life, and carries until she be removed, or some change take place." the influence of that discharge into minor relations.
The change took place after a few days, and the We must understand how much of himself, his Belle of the Opera carefully wrapped the body of better self, he gives to the amusements and light the deceased in its grave-clothes, and having com- enjoyments of life, and how much he brings from mitted it to a coffin, she went to purify herself, give them to influence his conduct elsewhere; or, if thanks for her preservation, and to enjoy again the weak, how much of himself he leaves in scenes fine arts which she so much admired.
where artistic taste only is exercised; how much he The pleasant laugh could at times, and did, give sacrifices of himself to mere gratification—a burntplace to lears of sorrow or of sympathy; and the offering never to be recalled. appearance of indifference would promptly yield, And here we reach a point toward which we have when thoughtlessly or wickedly some sentiment op- attempted to steer; we mean the fullness of chaposed to strict morality, would drop from the lip of aracter, the entire inward person—the meeting—the companion. ever did hours of gayety tend to combination—the fusion, indeed, of all those promoments of unkindness, or the full enjoyment of the perties and qualities of the mind, by a well-directed abundance to which all were happy to contribute, education; the balancing of the varions propensities obliterate a sentiment of gratitude toward those and gifts by the skillsul hand of instruction, so that no appetite, natural or acquired, shall have an undue each other, or exercise mutual influences, and each is predominancy, or serve to constitute the distin- less of itself by the qualities which it derives from guishing characteristic of the possessor.
others. The Belle of the Opera gave to her own fireside The Belle of the Opera, we have already said, the attraction of her personal charms, if less gorgeously brought to the place of amusements only the charms accompanied, still the more directly effective. The which God has bestowed and cultivated taste has adventitious aid of ornaments, that was a sacrifice to well set off. She did not elect herself as The Belle public taste, was not required; and these charms of the Opera; she did not inaugurate herself as “the gathered a circle which the exercise of mental acobserved of all observers.” Such results, though complishments retained; and thus all within their made probable by the charms of her person, and influence derived the advantage which association promoted by the opportunities afforded by the indul- with high gifts and large attainments necessarily imgence of a high order of talents, was, nevertheless, part, and the home was made gladsome by those the work of the admiring many, who felt and acknow- charms which are attractive to their like, and comledged the charms of person thus displayed, and at pensating to their admirers. once rendered to them the kind of homage which The attainment of the science of music, and the their excellence and position seemed to suggest. display of that science at home, meliorated the man. They, the multitude, judged in part, judged by what ners of the inmates, and invited to association those they saw, and what they imagined—and deified the whose taste was elevated, and whose talents were woman with the appellation of “Belle of the Opera ;" of a kind to sustain and appreciate high cultivation ; it was all the attribute they had to bestow; they felt and beyond the parlor these extended even to the an influence that they did not comprehend; and not nursery, or rather the nursery, by their exercise, was knowing of the charms concealed, that made effec- transferred to ihe parlor. That is what The Belle of tive what they saw, they gave to the visible and the the Opera understood by making all her accom. ostensible, the regard which was only due to the plishments subservient to her duties as wife and concealed and the influencing, as the shepherds of old mother. The mind of the child, by this constant intersaw with admiration and delight the fiery part of the course with the gifted and the improved, became ex. stars of the firmament in all their loveliness, and panded, received character from the atmosphere in feeling an influence from the celestial display, adored which it was placed, derived pleasure from the dethe hosts of heaven for their beauty and their use, velopment which it witnessed, and had its habits forgetful or ignorant of the power that made them formed to those graces which, in others, are only seem beautiful-uninstructed in all the relations of extraordinary results of extraordinary means, disthose orbs by which their beauty and their usefulness tinguishing the possessor only by one quality or are secured.
attainment, making her The Belle of the Opera alone. We have taken the reader to one scene, in which It is this association of the young with the beautiful The Belle of the Opera showed how little the and the accomplished, which infuses into their chaaccomplishment of person, and the cultivation of racter, and fixes there those meliorating influences laste had disturbed the seelings of humanity; and that constitute the charm of life, ruling, modifying, yet we confess, that such an example standing alone, illustrating their whole character, making it whole, seems to be a contradiction, or a sort of accidental harmonious, consistent. effort, rather the result of impulse, rather dependent It must be understood that The Belle of the Opera upon caprice or individual affection, than to be re
was not a mere pianist, not a mere strummer upon garded as illustrative of, or consistent with, the ruling the harp, she understood music as a science, and was characteristics. We are speaking now of a whole therefore capable of conversing upon the subject as character and a character cannot be judged of by well as playing upon an instrument. This power of one strong propensity on one hand, and one great conversation, resting upon a deep knowledge of subbut contradictory act on the other.
jects, is the secret and charm of association; and it Is the character of The Belle of the Opera com is worthy of remark, that gossip, even among the plete? Is the distance between the lustre and dis- elevated, soon wearies; and what is more remarkplay of the opera-box, and the devotion to the loath-able, it is wearisome and disgusting to children comsomeness of the small-pox chamber, all occupied pelled to listen, while conversations or discussions with corresponding virtues, and similar graces ming- upon subjects well understood by the interlocutors, ling, shading, combining, perfecting? If the great are at once interesting to general listeners, and attracoffices of the woman's life, (we are speaking now of tive, gratifying and instructive even to children. the Belle as a woman, looking at her higher voca- We appeal to general experience for this. tion,) if all these offices are well discharged, if as Eminently did The Belle of the Opera comprehend mother, wife, as friend and neighbor, she stand un- that truth, and practice upon it; hence a musical impeachable; if she is as notable in all these rela- entertainment in her house was not a mere exercise tions as in the opera-box, still we want to inquire of vocal powers, or a fearful attack upon the pianowhat is the influence exercised upon all these rela- keys. Music was discussed and then performed; tions, by those qualities which made her The Belle of and music, too, was not alone the theme. The the Opera. How stand the opera-box and the nursery well-lined walls denoted a taste for kindred arts ; related ? Because in the complete character of a wo- and the degrees of excellence of pictures, the disman are very few isolated qualities; they all bear upon tinguishing attributes of masters, were so lucidly