Judith Sargent Murray Society
JSM's dates: 1751-1820
The Reaper. No. IV.
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This essay appeared in the Monday, November 20, 1794 edition of the Federal Orrery. In it, "The Reaper" reviews a recent evening she spent at the "theatre-hall" attending a children's dance recital.

The Reaper. No. IV.
The storm, on saturday, without in the least considering our itching ears, very unceremoniously hurled the Centinel from our door, where it had just taken its stand, precisely in that aperture, which constitutes the vacancy between the knocker, and the convenient sounding-piece, on which it is lodged. This circumstance was the more mal-apropos, as, over and above the anticipations, which I am in the habit of indulging from that useful sheet of information, I had expected much pleasure from the perusal of the previously announced description of the late juvenile ball at the assembly-room. Enchanted by the graceful movements, and surprising proficiency of those numerous candidates for excellence, which constitute mr. DUPORT's school, I had meditated a sketch of that evening, as the subject of a Reaper; -- but, cheerfully foregoing my purpose, I was happy in the idea, that doing justice to that incomparable preceptor, and his attentive pupils, was probably reserved for much abler hands; -- nor did I obtain a site of the Centinel, until my remarks were too late for monday's Orrery.

I admire the laconic style of the writer in the Centinel: a watch-word only is becoming to some characters. A succinct account always possesses peculiar charms, and, perhaps it will be observed, that every thing necessary has been said; -- yet, to expatiate, over all the fruitful scene, is the province of a REAPER -- The golden harvest should be industriously gathered in, and the minutest grain is of sufficient importance, still farther to enrich the well-stored granary. If the Reaper is accused of arrogance, she persuades herself, that the candid will admit her apology.

Yes, the Reaper passed a pleasurable evening at the theatre-hall. The fruitful ideas, that hover round improvement, vibrate most harmoniously upon the best-attuned cords of her heart; and she hath ever marked, with immeasurable complacency, the opening bud of life.

Every thing conspired to enhance the felicity of this triumph of hilarity. The superb hall, so elegantly fitted up, and evincing the masterly skill of the matchless architect of this younger world—the flowery, enwreathed, and emblematic stucco -- the deceptive panes, unexpectedly reflecting back each pleased, and pleasing image -- the transparent, and well-lighted, chandeliers, and lustres -- all these, in themselves sufficiently enchanting, were absorbed in the animated exhibition, that swam before the delighted gaze of many an enraptured parent.

Are there emotions, comparable to those, which swell the bosom of an approbating parent? If there are, the Reaper has yet to learn, from what source they originate -- Did the little students but consider, how much the happiness of the revered authors of their being depends upon their progress in the paths of virtue, upon their attainments in useful knowledge, and their proficiency in those pleasing accomplishments, which make a part of the agreemons of life -- I persuade myself, that such consideration would often arrest their fleetest footsteps, amid the career of folly; would stimulate their efforts, in every laudable pursuit, and animate their wishes, to catch the graces, as they rise; esteeming it an essential object, to ornament, by every innocent selection, the more sublime endowments of the soul. The Reaper could be very serious here, but she considers her subject, and corrects herself.

Dancing seems an amusement, peculiarly adapted to the morning of life. It is a pleasing and healthful exercise, and, if it possessed no subsequent advantage, except an attainment of that early flexibility, and dignified elegance, with which it invests the ductile, and well-disciplined limbs, it must be regarded, as a sufficient compensation for the attention, which it claims. But dancing is reduced to a science, and science, armed by the irresistible magic of order, gives intrinsic value to every thing, which is submitted to its etherial touch.

MR. DUPORT, it must be confessed, is a complete master of his art. His assiduity, as a preceptor, must have been uncommon, and the parental heart will not hesitate in pronouncing his eulogy. He undeniably exhibited, at his highly zested entertainment, the perfection of dancing, and, we conceive, that he must have extorted applauses, even from the phlegmatic or the envious.

The commencement of a scene, rendered so interesting, was announced by some musical pieces, wafted from the orchestra. A group of tremulously agitated fathers and mothers, accompanied by their select friends, lined the hall. What, at that moment, were the feelings of that venerable lady, who, in the persons of the third order of her descendants, recognized some of the brightest ornaments of the assembly! We do homage to years, and we gladly mark the pleasures of beneficent old age. But two, little, (as it should seem aerial) beings now moved forward. They were decorated by the hands of the graces -- They were the children of PHILENIA. Can it be matter of wonder, that they are so lovely? Genius presides over their dawn; -- they are reared by the hand of elegance; and the honied strains of bland instruction are momently distilled into their infant minds. Five, sweet promisers of joy, the offspring of this peerless daughter of the "melodious mood," graced the numerous assembly. They were charming, as innocence; captivating, as virtue; and blooming, as hope: while the expansive influence of bright improvement apparently enzoned their every movement -- Ah, PHILENIA, permit one of the sincerest of thy admirers, to raise, to thee, the voice of gratulation! Suffer me to repeat the tuneful line -- "Survey THESE white CHERUBS, in view;" and thou shalt questionless be happy! Nature hath greatly blest thee. Thy form—but thy exterior, all-charming as it is, will obtain little observation, when in company with thy understanding. The stores of genius are at thy command; and art hath opened, for THEE its most profound recesses. The gifts of fortune too are thine, and competency laughs in thy train. Thy beauteous children! They cannot fail of inspiring the most happy ideas. Advance, then, MATCHLESS WOMAN, and, quaffing at the fount of complacency, bind, to thy bosom, that well-earned tranquility, which is so indisputably thy due!

The minuet, it will not be doubted, was inimitably performed -- and the sprightly movements, which instantly succeeded, would have done honor to the etherial tread of those bright celestials, who, it is said, trip around our most retired haunts.

I feel conscious of a kind of injustice, while discriminating upon an occasion, where the parts assigned were, by every little performer, so admirably supported. Not a single error was observed through the evening; -- not a pretty proficient, but was excellent; and, of course, not a parent, but must have been satisfied. The children of my affection were present;* to me they appeared beautiful as nature, and captivating as improvement: the thrill of enraptured approbation glowed in my veins, and my heart danced with pleasure. But however invidious the talk of pointing out may be, I am constrained to say, that if a preference was due, I conceive (her extreme youth considered) that no one will hesitate in yielding the palm to miss ANNA DUPORT; and the continued applauses, bestowed upon that lovely child, were undoubtedly sanctioned by the feelings of every heart.

Many of the dances were new to the Reaper; -- but that beautiful exhibition, which she is informed, hath received the appellation, CADRILLE, abundantly surpassed every idea, which she had, until that moment, formed of dancing. The grave, solemn march, (I aim not at technical terms) with which the Cadrille commenced -- the sudden transition -- the secret ambush -- the beauteous, little urchin, caught in the toils -- the prodigious variety, and amazing rapidity of the movements, &c &c altogether, seemed to combine a kind of sentimental expression. It was a recital in dumb show; and it appeared infinitely superior to all the boasted ingenuity of a pantomime entertainment.

Alas, alas, I have more than filled up my column, and yet I have not expressed half, that I conceived of mr. DUPORT'S ball! Well, perhaps it is best. The reader, probably, will, at this time, gladly dismiss the Reaper; and she therefore steps aside, that the interesting occurrences, which embellish the Orrery, may succeed.

*Judith's daughter, Julia Maria, and her niece, Anna Williams Sargent.


2007 © Bonnie Hurd Smith

Independent scholar and author Bonnie Hurd Smith is the president and CEO of History Smiths, a marketing company that works with businesses to incorporate history -- their own and their community's -- into their branding, marketing, and community outreach to attract customers, boost customer loyalty, and secure a high status reputation in the communities they serve.