Tuesday, April 11, 2017

The Butterfly's Ball, Peacock at Home, Lion's Masquerade

"... some lines, describing a visit from St. Nicholas, which I wrote many years ago, I think somewhere between 1823 and 1824, not for publication, but to amuse my children." --Clement C. Moore
When Clement C. Moore turned St. Nicholas into a jolly old fairy for the entertainment of his children, the best nineteenth-century models for what Hartley Coleridge called "the "true spirit of Faery poesy" were children's books by William Roscoe and Catherine Ann Turner Dorset. Drayton's Nymphidia influenced the naming of Santa's reindeer, as Ruth K. MacDonald shows, but Roscoe and Dorset were the real Dr. Seusses of Moore's day.
"Then the Grasshopper came with a Jerk and a Spring...."

A very popular and anonymous set of nursery volumes was started into being by William Roscoe in 1806. The first was The Butterfly's Ball and the Grasshopper's Feast, which he wrote for the amusement of his son, Robert. By some occult means it attracted the attention of the King and Queen, by whose order it was set to music by Sir George Smart for the Princess Mary. Its first appearance in print was in the November, 1806, number of the Gentleman's Magazine, and it was published separately in the following January, the text and pictures being engraved together on copper plates. A crowd of imitators at once buzzed into life. The first that came out was The Peacock at Home, written by a Lady, and Illustrated with Elegant Engravings, which are usually attributed to Mulready. The next of them, The Lion's Masquerade, was also "by a lady," and it again was "illustrated with elegant engravings," by the same hand. The authorship of the last two was soon assigned to Mrs. Dorset, a younger sister of the unhappy Charlotte Smith, and the Peacock at Home has often been reprinted with and without her name. The Lion's Masquerade had a companion in The Lioness's Rout, also by Mrs. Dorset, and Roscoe followed up his Butterfly's Ball with another little work, The Butterfly's Birthday, 1809.
The Butterfly's Funeral is said to have been written by Beau Brummell. Three thousand copies of it are said to have been sold. A kindred piece, The Elephant's Ball and Grand Fete Champetre, 1807, bore the initials of an unknown W. B. and was also "illustrated with elegant engravings," by Mulready. Lastly may be mentioned, The Peacock and Parrot in their Tour to Discover the Author of the "Peacock at Home," which was written in 1807, but not published until 1816. Hartley Coleridge wrote of Roscoe's original production, The Butterfly's Ball, that it possessed " the true spirit of Faery poesy and reminds one of the best things in Herrick."  --The Secrets of our National Literature
"And, with hearts beating light as the plumage that grew
On their merry-thought bosoms, away they all flew...."

"And now at the door was a terrible clatter,
The beasts all about wonder'd what was the matter."

Happily the Internet Archive also has the 1807 companion piece by "W. B.," The Elephant's Ball:

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