The Waltz

A poem by Lord George Gordon Byron

Introduction To 'The Waltz'

Byron spent the autumn of 1812 "by the waters of Cheltenham," and, besides writing to order his 'Song of Drury Lane' (the address spoken at the opening of the theatre, Oct. 10, 1812), he put in hand a 'Satire on Waltzing'. It was published anonymously in the following spring; but, possibly, because it was somewhat coolly received, he told Murray (April 21, 1813) "to contradict the report that he was the author of a certain malicious publication on waltzing." In his memoranda "chiefly with reference to my Byron," Moore notes "Byron's hatred of waltzing," and records a passage of arms between "the lame boy" and Mary Chaworth, which arose from her "dancing with some person who was unknown to her." Then, and always, he must have experienced the bitter sense of exclusion from active amusements; but it is a hasty assumption that Byron only denounced waltzing because he was unable to waltz himself. To modern sentiment, on the moral side, waltzing is unassailable; but the first impressions of spectators, to whom it was a novelty, were distinctly unfavourable.

In a letter from Germany (May 17, 1799) Coleridge describes a dance round the maypole at Rübeland.

"The dances were reels and the waltzes, but chiefly the latter; this dance is in the higher circles sufficiently voluptuous, but here the motions of it were 'far' more faithful interpreters of the passions."

A year later, H.C. Robinson, writing from Frankfort in 1800 ('Diary and Letters', i. 76), says, "The dancing is unlike anything you ever saw. You must have heard of it under the name of waltzing, that is rolling and turning, though the rolling is not horizontal but perpendicular. Yet Werther, after describing his first waltz with Charlotte, says, and I say so too, 'I felt that if I were married my wife should waltz (or roll) with no one but myself.'" Ten years later, Gillray publishes a caricature of the waltz, as a French dance, which he styles, "Le bon Genre." It is not a pretty picture. By degrees, however, and with some reluctance, society yielded to the fascinations of the stranger.

"My cousin Hartington," writes Lady Caroline Lamb, in 1812 ('Memoirs of Viscount Melbourne', by W.T. McCullagh Torrens, i. 105), "wanted to have waltzes and quadrilles; and at Devonshire House it could not be allowed, so we had them in the great drawing-room at Whitehall. All the 'bon ton' assembled there continually. There was nothing so fashionable."

"No event," says Thomas Raikes ('Personal Reminiscences', p. 284), ever produced so great a sensation in English society as the introduction of the German waltz.... Old and young returned to school, and the mornings were now absorbed at home in practising the figures of a French quadrille or whirling a chair round the room to learn the step and measure of the German waltz. The anti-waltzing party took the alarm, cried it down; mothers forbad it, and every ballroom became a scene of feud and contention. The foreigners were not idle in forming their 'élèves'; Baron Tripp, Neumann, St. Aldegonde, etc., persevered in spite of all prejudices which were marshalled against them. It was not, however, till Byron's "malicious publication" had been issued and forgotten that the new dance received full recognition. "When," Raikes concludes, "the Emperor Alexander was seen waltzing round the room at Almack's with his tight uniform and numerous decorations," or [Gronow, 'Recollections', 1860, pp. 32, 33] "Lord Palmerston might have been seen describing an infinite number of circles with Madame de Lieven," insular prejudices gave way, and waltzing became general.

The Waltz: An Apostrophic Hymn. By Horace Hornem, Esq.

"Qualis in Eurotæ ripis, aut per juga Cynthi,
Exercet DIANA choros."

VIRGIL, 'Aen'. i. 502.

"Such on Eurotas's banks, or Cynthus's height,
Diana seems: and so she charms the sight,
When in the dance the graceful goddess leads
The quire of nymphs, and overtops their heads."

DRYDEN'S Virgil.


The title-page of the first edition (4to.) of The Waltz bears the imprint:

Printed by S. Gosnell,
Little Queen Street, Holborn.
For Sherwood, Neely and Jones,
Paternoster Row. 1813.
(Price Three Shillings.)

Successive Revises had run as follows: -

i. London: Printed for John Murray, Albemarle Street, Piccadilly. By S. Gosnell, Little Queen Street. 1813.

ii. Cambridge: Printed by G. Maitland. For John Murray, etc.

iii. Cambridge: Printed by G. Maitland. For Sherwood, Neely and Jones, Paternoster Row. 1813.

For the Bibliography of The Waltz, see vol. vi. of the present issue.

To The Publisher.


I am a country Gentleman of a midland county. I might have been a Parliament-man for a certain borough; having had the offer of as many votes as General T. at the general election in 1812. [1] But I was all for domestic happiness; as, fifteen years ago, on a visit to London, I married a middle-aged Maid of Honour. We lived happily at Hornem Hall till last Season, when my wife and I were invited by the Countess of Waltzaway (a distant relation of my Spouse) to pass the winter in town. Thinking no harm, and our Girls being come to a marriageable (or, as they call it, 'marketable') age, and having besides a Chancery suit inveterately entailed upon the family estate, we came up in our old chariot, - of which, by the bye, my wife grew so ashamed in less than a week, that I was obliged to buy a second-hand barouche, of which I might mount the box, Mrs. H. says, if I could drive, but never see the inside - that place being reserved for the Honourable Augustus Tiptoe, her partner-general and Opera-knight. Hearing great praises of Mrs. H.'s dancing (she was famous for birthnight minuets in the latter end of the last century), I unbooted, and went to a ball at the Countess's, expecting to see a country dance, or, at most, Cotillons, reels, and all the old paces to the newest tunes, But, judge of my surprise, on arriving, to see poor dear Mrs. Hornem with her arms half round the loins of a huge hussar-looking gentleman I never set eyes on before; and his, to say truth, rather more than half round her waist, turning round, and round, to a d---- d see-saw up-and-down sort of tune, that reminded me of the "Black Joke," only more "'affettuoso'"[1] till it made me quite giddy with wondering they were not so. By and by they stopped a bit, and I thought they would sit or fall down: - but no; with Mrs. H.'s hand on his shoulder, "'Quam familiariter'"[2] (as Terence said, when I was at school,) they walked about a minute, and then at it again, like two cock-chafers spitted on the same bodkin. I asked what all this meant, when, with a loud laugh, a child no older than our Wilhelmina (a name I never heard but in the 'Vicar of Wakefield', though her mother would call her after the Princess of Swappenbach,) said, "L - d! Mr. Hornem, can't you see they're valtzing?" or waltzing (I forget which); and then up she got, and her mother and sister, and away they went, and round-abouted it till supper-time. Now that I know what it is, I like it of all things, and so does Mrs. H. (though I have broken my shins, and four times overturned Mrs. Hornem's maid, in practising the preliminary steps in a morning). Indeed, so much do I like it, that having a turn for rhyme, tastily displayed in some election ballads, and songs in honour of all the victories (but till lately I have had little practice in that way), I sat down, and with the aid of William Fitzgerald, Esq., and a few hints from Dr. Busby, (whose recitations I attend, and am monstrous fond of Master Busby's manner of delivering his father's late successful "Drury Lane Address,")[1] I composed the following hymn, wherewithal to make my sentiments known to the Public; whom, nevertheless, I heartily despise, as well as the critics.

I am, Sir, yours, etc., etc.


1: State of the poll (last day) 5.

[General Tarleton (1754-1833) contested Liverpool in October, 1812. For three days the poll stood at five, and on the last day, eleven. Canning and Gascoigne were the successful candidates.]

2: More expressive. - [MS.

3: My Latin is all forgotten, if a man can be said to have forgotten what he never remembered; but I bought my title-page motto of a Catholic priest for a three-shilling bank token, after much haggling for the even sixpence. I grudged the money to a papist, being all for the memory of Perceval and "No popery," and quite regretting the downfall of the pope, because we can't burn him any more. - [Revise No. 2.]

4: See 'Rejected Addresses'.

The Waltz

Muse of the many-twinkling feet! [1] whose charms
Are now extended up from legs to arms;
Terpsichore! - too long misdeemed a maid -
Reproachful term - bestowed but to upbraid -
Henceforth in all the bronze of brightness shine,
The least a Vestal of the Virgin Nine.
Far be from thee and thine the name of Prude:
Mocked yet triumphant; sneered at, unsubdued;
Thy legs must move to conquer as they fly,
If but thy coats are reasonably high!
Thy breast - if bare enough - requires no shield;
Dance forth - sans armour thou shalt take the field
And own - impregnable to most assaults,
Thy not too lawfully begotten "Waltz."

Hail, nimble Nymph! to whom the young hussar, [2]
The whiskered votary of Waltz and War,
His night devotes, despite of spur and boots;
A sight unmatched since Orpheus and his brutes:
Hail, spirit-stirring Waltz! - beneath whose banners
A modern hero fought for modish manners;
On Hounslow's heath to rival Wellesley's [3] fame,
Cocked, fired, and missed his man - but gained his aim;
Hail, moving muse! to whom the fair one's breast
Gives all it can, and bids us take the rest.
Oh! for the flow of Busby, [4] or of Fitz,
The latter's loyalty, the former's wits,
To "energise the object I pursue,"
And give both Belial and his Dance their due!

Imperial Waltz! imported from the Rhine
(Famed for the growth of pedigrees and wine),
Long be thine import from all duty free,
And Hock itself be less esteemed than thee;
In some few qualities alike - for Hock
Improves our cellar - thou our living stock.
The head to Hock belongs - thy subtler art
Intoxicates alone the heedless heart:
Through the full veins thy gentler poison swims,
And wakes to Wantonness the willing limbs.

Oh, Germany! how much to thee we owe,
As heaven-born Pitt can testify below,
Ere cursed Confederation made thee France's,
And only left us thy d - d debts and dances! [5]
Of subsidies and Hanover bereft,
We bless thee still - George the Third is left!
Of kings the best - and last, not least in worth,
For graciously begetting George the Fourth.
To Germany, and Highnesses serene,
Who owe us millions - don't we owe the Queen?
To Germany, what owe we not besides?
So oft bestowing Brunswickers and brides;
Who paid for vulgar, with her royal blood,
Drawn from the stem of each Teutonic stud:
Who sent us - so be pardoned all her faults -
A dozen dukes, some kings, a Queen - and Waltz.

But peace to her - her Emperor and Diet,
Though now transferred to Buonapartè's "fiat!"
Back to my theme - O muse of Motion! say,
How first to Albion found thy Waltz her way?

Borne on the breath of Hyperborean gales,
From Hamburg's port (while Hamburg yet had mails),
Ere yet unlucky Fame - compelled to creep
To snowy Gottenburg-was chilled to sleep;
Or, starting from her slumbers, deigned arise,
Heligoland! to stock thy mart with lies;
While unburnt Moscow [6] yet had news to send,
Nor owed her fiery Exit to a friend,
She came - Waltz came - and with her certain sets
Of true despatches, and as true Gazettes;
Then flamed of Austerlitz the blest despatch, [7]
Which Moniteur nor Morning Post can match
And - almost crushed beneath the glorious news -
Ten plays, and forty tales of Kotzebue's; [8]
One envoy's letters, six composer's airs,
And loads from Frankfort and from Leipsic fairs:
Meiners' four volumes upon Womankind, [9]
Like Lapland witches to ensure a wind;
Brunck's heaviest tome for ballast, [10] and, to back it,
Of Heynè, [11] such as should not sink the packet.

Fraught with this cargo - and her fairest freight,
Delightful Waltz, on tiptoe for a Mate,
The welcome vessel reached the genial strand,
And round her flocked the daughters of the land.
Not decent David, when, before the ark,
His grand Pas-seul excited some remark;
Not love-lorn Quixote, when his Sancho thought
The knight's Fandango friskier than it ought;
Not soft Herodias, when, with winning tread,
Her nimble feet danced off another's head;
Not Cleopatra on her Galley's Deck,
Displayed so much of leg or more of neck,
Than Thou, ambrosial Waltz, when first the Moon
Beheld thee twirling to a Saxon tune!

To You, ye husbands of ten years! whose brows
Ache with the annual tributes of a spouse;
To you of nine years less, who only bear
The budding sprouts of those that you shall wear,
With added ornaments around them rolled
Of native brass, or law-awarded gold;
To You, ye Matrons, ever on the watch
To mar a son's, or make a daughter's match;
To You, ye children of - whom chance accords -
Always the Ladies, and sometimes their Lords;
To You, ye single gentlemen, who seek
Torments for life, or pleasures for a week;
As Love or Hymen your endeavours guide,
To gain your own, or snatch another's bride; -
To one and all the lovely Stranger came,
And every Ball-room echoes with her name.

Endearing Waltz! - to thy more melting tune
Bow Irish Jig, and ancient Rigadoon. [12]
Scotch reels, avaunt! and Country-dance forego
Your future claims to each fantastic toe!
Waltz - Waltz alone - both legs and arms demands,
Liberal of feet, and lavish of her hands;
Hands which may freely range in public sight
Where ne'er before - but - pray "put out the light."
Methinks the glare of yonder chandelier
Shines much too far - or I am much too near;
And true, though strange - Waltz whispers this remark,
"My slippery steps are safest in the dark!"
But here the Muse with due decorum halts,
And lends her longest petticoat to "Waltz."

Observant Travellers of every time!
Ye Quartos published upon every clime!
0 say, shall dull Romaika's heavy round,
Fandango's wriggle, or Bolero's bound;
Can Egypt's Almas [13] - tantalising group -
Columbia's caperers to the warlike Whoop -
Can aught from cold Kamschatka to Cape Horn
With Waltz compare, or after Waltz be born?
Ah, no! from Morier's pages down to Galt's, [14]
Each tourist pens a paragraph for "Waltz."

Shades of those Belles whose reign began of yore,
With George the Third's - and ended long before! -
Though in your daughters' daughters yet you thrive,
Burst from your lead, and be yourselves alive!
Back to the Ball-room speed your spectred host,
Fool's Paradise is dull to that you lost.
No treacherous powder bids Conjecture quake;
No stiff-starched stays make meddling fingers ache;
(Transferred to those ambiguous things that ape
Goats in their visage, [15] women in their shape;)
No damsel faints when rather closely pressed,
But more caressing seems when most caressed;
Superfluous Hartshorn, and reviving Salts,
Both banished by the sovereign cordial "Waltz."

Seductive Waltz! - though on thy native shore
Even Werter's self proclaimed thee half a whore;
Werter - to decent vice though much inclined,
Yet warm, not wanton; dazzled, but not blind -
Though gentle Genlis, [16] in her strife with Staël,
Would even proscribe thee from a Paris ball;
The fashion hails - from Countesses to Queens,
And maids and valets waltz behind the scenes;
Wide and more wide thy witching circle spreads,
And turns - if nothing else - at least our heads;
With thee even clumsy cits attempt to bounce,
And cockney's practise what they can't pronounce.
Gods! how the glorious theme my strain exalts,
And Rhyme finds partner Rhyme in praise of "Waltz!"
Blest was the time Waltz chose for her début!
The Court, the Regent, like herself were new; [17]
New face for friends, for foes some new rewards;
New ornaments for black-and royal Guards;
New laws to hang the rogues that roared for bread;
New coins (most new) [18] to follow those that fled;
New victories - nor can we prize them less,
Though Jenky [19] wonders at his own success;
New wars, because the old succeed so well,
That most survivors envy those who fell;
New mistresses - no, old - and yet 'tis true,
Though they be old, the thing is something new;
Each new, quite new - (except some ancient tricks), [20]
New white-sticks - gold-sticks - broom-sticks - all new sticks!
With vests or ribands - decked alike in hue,
New troopers strut, new turncoats blush in blue:
So saith the Muse: my---- , [21] what say you?
Such was the time when Waltz might best maintain
Her new preferments in this novel reign;
Such was the time, nor ever yet was such;
Hoops are more, and petticoats not much;
Morals and Minuets, Virtue and her stays,
And tell-tale powder - all have had their days.
The Ball begins - the honours of the house
First duly done by daughter or by spouse,
Some Potentate - or royal or serene -
With Kent's gay grace, or sapient Gloster's mien,
Leads forth the ready dame, whose rising flush
Might once have been mistaken for a blush.
From where the garb just leaves the bosom free,
That spot where hearts [22] were once supposed to be;
Round all the confines of the yielded waist,
The strangest hand may wander undisplaced:
The lady's in return may grasp as much
As princely paunches offer to her touch.
Pleased round the chalky floor how well they trip
One hand reposing on the royal hip! [23]
The other to the shoulder no less royal
Ascending with affection truly loyal!
Thus front to front the partners move or stand,
The foot may rest, but none withdraw the hand;
And all in turn may follow in their rank,
The Earl of - Asterisk - and Lady - Blank;
Sir - Such-a-one - with those of fashion's host, [24]
For whose blest surnames - vide "Morning Post."
(Or if for that impartial print too late,
Search Doctors' Commons six months from my date) -
Thus all and each, in movement swift or slow,
The genial contact gently undergo;
Till some might marvel, with the modest Turk,
If "nothing follows all this palming work?" [25]
True, honest Mirza! - you may trust my rhyme -
Something does follow at a fitter time;
The breast thus publicly resigned to man,
In private may resist him - if it can.

O ye who loved our Grandmothers of yore,
Fitzpatrick, [26] Sheridan, and many more!
And thou, my Prince! whose sovereign taste and will
It is to love the lovely beldames still!
Thou Ghost of Queensberry! [27] whose judging Sprite
Satan may spare to peep a single night,
Pronounce - if ever in your days of bliss
Asmodeus struck so bright a stroke as this;
To teach the young ideas how to rise,
Flush in the cheek, and languish in the eyes;
Rush to the heart, and lighten through the frame,
With half-told wish, and ill-dissembled flame,
For prurient Nature still will storm the breast -
Who, tempted thus, can answer for the rest?

But ye - who never felt a single thought
For what our Morals are to be, or ought;
Who wisely wish the charms you view to reap,
Say - would you make those beauties quite so cheap?
Hot from the hands promiscuously applied,
Round the slight waist, or down the glowing side,
Where were the rapture then to clasp the form
From this lewd grasp and lawless contact warm?
At once Love's most endearing thought resign,
To press the hand so pressed by none but thine;
To gaze upon that eye which never met
Another's ardent look without regret;
Approach the lip which all, without restraint,
Come near enough - if not to touch - to taint;
If such thou lovest - love her then no more,
Or give - like her - caresses to a score;
Her Mind with these is gone, and with it go
The little left behind it to bestow.

Voluptuous Waltz! and dare I thus blaspheme?
Thy bard forgot thy praises were his theme.
Terpsichore forgive! - at every Ball
My wife now waltzes - and my daughters shall;
My son - (or stop - 'tis needless to inquire -
These little accidents should ne'er transpire;
Some ages hence our genealogic tree
Will wear as green a bough for him as me) -
Waltzing shall rear, to make our name amends
Grandsons for me - in heirs to all his friends.

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