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C.D. Warner, et al., comp. The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes. 1917.

The Belle of the Ball

By Winthrop Mackworth Praed (1802–1839)

YEARS, years ago, ere yet my dreams

Had been of being wise or witty;

Ere I had done with writing themes,

Or yawned o’er this infernal Chitty;

Years, years ago, while all my joys

Were in my fowling-piece and filly,—

In short, while I was yet a boy,

I fell in love with Laura Lilly.

I saw her at a country ball;

There, when the sound of flute and fiddle

Gave signal sweet in that old hall

Of hands across and down the middle,

Hers was the subtlest spell by far

Of all that sets young hearts romancing;

She was our queen, our rose, our star,

And when she danced—O heaven, her dancing!

Dark was her hair, her hand was white,

Her voice was exquisitely tender,

Her eyes were full of liquid light;

I never saw a waist so slender;

Her every look, her every smile,

Shot right and left a score of arrows:

I thought ’twas Venus from her isle,

And wondered where she’d left her sparrows.

She talked of politics or prayers,

Of Southey’s prose or Wordsworth’s sonnets,

Of daggers or of dancing bears,

Of battles or the last new bonnets;

By candle-light, at twelve o’clock,

To me it mattered not a tittle,—

If these bright lips had quoted Locke,

I might have thought they murmured Little.

Through sunny May, through sultry June,

I loved her with a love eternal;

I spoke her praises to the moon,

I wrote them for the Sunday Journal.

My mother laughed,—I soon found out

That ancient ladies have no feeling;

My father frowned;—but how should gout

Find any happiness in kneeling?

She was the daughter of a dean,

Rich, fat, and rather apoplectic;

She had one brother, just thirteen,

Whose color was extremely hectic;

Her grandmother for many a year

Had fed the parish with her bounty;

Her second cousin was a peer,

And lord-lieutenant of the county.

But titles and the three-per-cents,

And mortgages and great relations,

And India bonds and tithes and rents,—

Oh! what are they to love’s sensations?

Black eyes, fair forehead, clustering locks,

Such wealth, such honors, Cupid chooses;

He cares as little for the stocks

As Baron Rothschild for the Muses.

She sketched—the vale, the wood, the beach,

Grew lovelier from her pencil’s shading;

She botanized—I envied each

Young blossom in her boudoir fading;

She warbled Handel—it was grand,

She made the Catalina jealous;

She touched the organ—I could stand

For hours and hours and blow the bellows.

And she was flattered, worshiped, bored;

Her steps were watched, her dress was noted,

Her poodle dog was quite adored,

Her sayings were extremely quoted.

She laughed—and every heart was glad

As if the taxes were abolished;

She frowned—and every look was sad

As if the opera were demolished.

She smiled on many just for fun—

I knew that there was nothing in it;

I was the first, the only one,

Her heart had thought of for a minute

I knew it, for she told me so,

In phrase which was divinely molded;

She wrote a charming hand, and oh!

How sweetly all her notes were folded!

Our love was like most other loves:

A little glow, a little shiver,

A rosebud and a pair of gloves,

And ‘Fly not Yet’ upon the river;

Some jealousy of some one’s heir,

Some hopes of dying broken-hearted,

A miniature, a lock of hair,

The usual vows—and then we parted.

We parted—months and years rolled by;

We met again four summers after;

Our parting was all sob and sigh,

Our meeting was all mirth and laughter:

For in my heart’s most secret cell

There had been many other lodgers;

And she was not the ball-room belle,

But only Mrs.—Something—Rogers.