The New Zealand Evangelist
Summer is now gone with all its beauty—its green fields, its clear skies, and its brilliant sunshine; and with all its exciting amusements—its rural sports, its regattas, and its races. Winter has again returned with all its gloom,—with its dull days and long nights,—with its faded scenery, its chill damps, its cold winds, and its drenching rains. There are few attractions without, and enjoyments must be sought within. And so it is. The votaries of pleasure are eagerly pursuing the most exciting of in-door amusements; from Government House to the lowest taverns, we have ball-rooms lighted up; youth, beauty, and fashion are giving animation to the halls of revelry; and nothing is heard but mirth and music, nothing is seen but dancing and merriment, from the noon of night to the dawn of morning.
“But what harm is there in a ball?” it will be asked, “Is it not an innocent amusement? Dancing is not so bad as drinking. It often prevents drinking. Would you never let young people enjoy themselves?”
We know that dancing is such a favourite amuse-page 398ment—one in which there is so much enjoyment—it is countenanced by so many respectable people—so much can be said in its favour—its decided opponents are so few—and the grounds on which it is condemned are sometimes so untenable—that we are well aware, we undertake a very unpopular task when we endeavour to show the evils of balls and dancing parties. It is, however, a common mistake to think that because there are some good things, or some defensible points, in this and kindred amusements, and because so many are passionately fond of them, they must therefore be in themselves harmless and innocent, and liable only to the ordinary abuses to which all good things are exposed. Satan is far too crafty to exhibit unmixed evil. He colours his poisoned pills, so as to deceive the eyes of the unreflecting, and they swallow them without suspicion.
Our first objection to balls is, that they are injurious to health. “How can that be,” it will be said, “is not dancing a healthful exercise?” We do not say but dancing might be conducted, so as to be a healthful exercise. Were dancing parties, like prayer-meetings, to meet at seven o'clock and dismiss at eight, their advantages to health might be more successfully pleaded. But we must speak of balls as they are, have been, and are likely to be conducted. We are invariably told in the report of every ball, that the nimble dancers tripped “on the light fantastic toe,” or “footed it merrily,” till the early hours of the morning, or oftener till the dawning light warned them to separate. Now the whole medical profession, with one voice, denounce night meetings as destructive to health. What can be worse for a delicate young lady than the want of rest and sleep at the proper hours; and exposure to the chill damp air of night, after breathing for hours the heated atmosphere of the ball-room? Colds and rheumatisms might be seen at such times hovering over many fair victims; and scarcely ever a ball is held but more or less sickness is thereby occasioned.page 399
Our next objection to balls is, that they are injurious to the mind. They tend seriously to dissipate mental energy and retard the improvement of the intellectual powers. They have much the same effect upon the intellect as the reading of novels has; but from the social character and strongly exciting tendency of balls, they are proportionably more fascinating and bewitching than novel reading. To persons of musical taste and social disposition, there is perhaps no amusement so captivating as dancing; it comes over them with all the power of enchantment, and produces a species of mental intoxication. Judgment is prostrated before the whirlwind of passion; and everything like reason, reflection, or the restraints of mental discipline, or even the warning whispers of friendship, are treated as unbidden guests, and checked as unwelcome intruders. In this state of feeling, labour, learning, mental improvement, or the acquisition of knowledge, is felt to be most irksome. The writer of this was on one occasion conducting the education of children belonging to two families in a rural district. A dancing school was opened in the neighbourhood, at which his pupils attended in the evening; the result was that for the six weeks or two months that they attended this dancing, their other education, although conducted as regularly as before, stood quite still. They became so intoxicated with the excitement of the dancing, as to lose all taste and heart for learning any thing else. Nay, there was an actual distaste to other learning produced, and the school-room might have been closed when the dancing-room was opened. Let any enthusiastic dancer try to apply his mind to reading, or any other mental exercise requiring close thought, before or after attending a ball; and let him compare his powers of application then with what they are at other times, and an approximation may be made to the truth, in calculaing the effects.
Our next objection to balls is their injurious moral effects. They weaken the moral powers, and render page 400 men less firm and decided in resisting other temptations. Dr. A. Clarke's testimony on this point is very clear and decided; and although we have given it in his life,* we deem a part of it worth quoting again. “Dancing was to me a perverting influence, an unmixed moral evil; for although, by the mercy of God, it led me not to depravity of manners, it greatly weakened the moral principle, drowned the voice of a well instructed conscience, and was the first cause of impelling me to seek my happiness in this life. Every thing yielded to the disposition it had produced, and every thing was absorbed by it. I have it justly in abhorrence for the moral injury it did me; and I can testify (as far as my own observations have extended, and they have had a pretty wide range), I have known it produce the same evils on others that it did on me.” Where there is no postive immorality, the moral principle may nevertheless be deeply injured.
Among the higher and respectable classes, the forms and etiquitte of society will be a sufficient protection to character and conduct, and will secure propriety and decorum in balls and dancing parties. But can the same thing be said of all the other balls that are got up in imitation of those held in high places? Is not drinking and intemperance an almost inseparable accompaniment of these? Is it not a common thing for young men to meet and dance there with young women greatly their inferiors in station? and are not the results of such intimacy too well known? Have not young women gone to balls held on board vessels lying in the harbour here, been made drunk, and thereby lost their character? Are there not, or at least have their not been gentlemen (?) living in a disreputable state of concubinage with young women, whose acquaintance they first made at the these promiscuous balls? The demoralizing tendencies of that class of balls is well known. Some eighteen years ago the writer of this was on board a Liverpool steamer, in which five or page 401 six young seamen were passengers. He overheard them discussing, among other subjects, the merits of dancing. One of them, a very intelligent young man, though evidently neither a Puritan nor a Methodist, in reply to something said in favour of dancing, emphatically declared, that if he had twenty daughters he would sooner break the legs of every one of them than he would allow them to learn dancing; he had seen so much of the evil of dancing among sailors’ wives and daughters; if they were fond of dancing, he said, they went to balls, learned to drink, lost their character, and came to ruin.
Our next objection against balls is, that they are injurious to spiritual religion. In proof of this we might simply ask, Who most frequently get up balls? Who patronize and support them? Is it the most religious or the most worldly-minded in the community? Have not these amusements been always regarded as belonging peculiarly to the world? Do not even the non-religious look with surprize when they see those making a high profession of religion taking an active part in a dancing party or a ball, or even being present at them? Have not the most eminent and pious ministers of the gospel of all denominations, in all ages and countries, denounced these amusements as injurious in their tendency to spiritual religion? Have not all christians as they advanced in spirituality avoided such amusements? An eminently pious French lady of the writer's acquaintance has told him, that when she came first to England, she knew nothing of heart religion; she had all the gaiety and thoughtlessness of her nation; and she wondered how any one could live a day without dancing. By the blessing of God upon the means of grace she was afterwards converted; but when her eyes were opened to the vanities of the world, to the realities of eternity, and to the blessedness of communion with God, she completely lost her love for dancing; and she then wondered how any child of God could feel any pleasure in this truly worldly amusement.page 402
This lady, when the writer knew her, was a governess in a ladies’ boarding school, where dancing was excluded on principle, but where all its real advantages were otherwise secured. To insure vigorous health, an elegant form, and graceful movements, the young ladies were regularly instructed in calisthenics. The Lady at the head of the establishment was equally distinguished for talents, accomplishments, and piety: her pupils went forth to the world ignorant of the mysteries of waltzing, unfitted to shine in the ball room, and unable to gain distinction among the “votaries of Terpsichore;” but the lady herself and the parents of the pupils had the satisfaction to witness, that although the young ladies left her seminary destitute of this accomplishment, many of them gave good evidence that they left her with their heart renewed by the spirit of God, and adorned with those graces which, as the apostle tells us, are “in the sight of God of great price.”
A few years ago, at a revival of religion in Kilsyth, near Glasgow, a company of young people were in the habit of meeting regularly in a schoolroom, once or twice a week, to entertain themselves with dancing. After the revival commenced, one after another become seriously impressed about the salvation of their soul; in a few weeks the dancing party was changed into a prayer meeting, and the youth of both sexes were seen displaying more becoming movements, by gracefully bowing the knee in the name of Jesus. The Polka and the prayer meeting cannot long go on harmoniously together; what concord hath Christ with Belial? Similar changes took place in New England in the revivals under president Edwards.
We are fully aware that many respectable, estimable people can see no evil in balls; they look upon dancing as in itself a harmless amusement; they are not conscious that they have been injured by it; they admit that it may be, and is abused; but they see no reason why it should be entirely banished on that account; and they are disposed to think that it is page 403 only bigotry or moroseness that would exclude such an innocent enjoyment. We have no wish to judge uncharitably. We have little doubt but many real christians dance at balls and mingle in these amusements. It is not all good that good people do. It is difficult to say what amount of imperfection is compatible with a state of grace, just as it is difficult to say what amount of sickness is compatible with the existence of life. We judge of the right and wrong in conduct, not of the standing of our brethren in the sight of God. Every class of persons have their peculiar temptations and besetting sins. To those who possess an acute musical ear, and a great flow of animal spirits, music and dancing present almost irresistible attractions; while to those who have a dull ear and are of a less excitable temperament, such temptations are next to powerless; and such persons are apt to look upon the others as graceless heathens, because they are prone to listen to the syren voice of these temptations. The religious principle may be as strong in the one as in the other, and natural temperament may account for all the difference. Still it is the duty of Christians to watch carefully against their besetting sins. Satan is often most successful by means of doutful amusements and practices. Because they are not positively evil in themselves, but principally though attendant circumstances, conscience is often lulled asleep. John Bunyan tells us that when Christiana's boys saw Beelzebub's apples hanging over the wall and within reach of the king's highway, Mathew, her eldest boy, kept pulling and eating them, although his mother warned and chid him for so doing. The fruit seemed pleasant at the time, but by and by the youth fell sick and was racked with most acute pains. To us it appears that balls and dancing parties are some of the apples of Sodom that project from Beelzebub's orchard. These apples are fair and beautiful to the eyes of unsuspecting young Christians, but they prove ashes and bitterness to the taste; or if like the Apocalyptic little book they are page 404 sweet as honey in the mouth, like it, they are also bitter as wormwood to the belly. Dr. Skill told Christiana that many died from eating these apples; and he found that nothing would cure Mathew but a medicine compounded Ex carne et sanguine Christi, (of the body and blood of Christ,) and taken in a sufficient quantity of the tears of repentance.
The writer of this knew a very pious young lady who from a lively disposition and a great taste for music, was often led to take a part in evening dancing parties; although he never knew of her attending a ball. He ocsasionally [sic: occasionally] remarked to herself and others, the inconsistency of such conduct with her high profession; but no very satisfactory solution was ever offered. The lady died four years ago. A short account of her useful life and joyful death was afterwards published, in which this same subject is alluded to as follows, “Many a salt and silent tear has she shed over time mis-spent at parties and other evening meetings, where songs were sung, jokes were made, games were played, and conversations indulged in, which would not have found a sharer in the lowly and holy Saviour. Not that she sought such scenes herself, for repeatedly she vowed never to revisit them,—but if at any time she mingled with friends who she thought would abstain from such excess. when once the merriment began, the sprightliness of her nature caught the spark and she joined in the glee. When on her way home from these friendly meetings her conscience frequently smote her, and on reaching her own apartment, she has with a heavy heart called upon God to forgive her, and preserve her thereafter from such temptation and sin. She found that two evil effects followed undue indulgence in levity and sport on the part of Christians—the unconverted were kept back from Christ, and the peace of the believer for the time was banished away.” She latterly gave up such meetings entirely.
But it is said, The Bible authorises dancing; David danced; Solomon says, “there is a time to dance;” there were music and dancing at the return of the page 405 prodigal. Superficial readers are often deceived by the mere sound of a word. The word dance in Scripture oftens means simply to leap for joy, and is opposed to mourn; and has no relation to any thing like balls. The religious dancing was a kind of slow solemn procession to the sound of music. At the return of the prodigal the dancing, of whatever kind it was, took place in the day time, while the elder son was in the field at his employment. It appears to have been simply an extemporaneous demonstration of joy on the part of the domestics; and so little formality about it, that the eldest son was not sent for to take part in it. Before Solomon's words “a time to dance,” can sanction balls, it must be shown that the time to dance is from nine o'clock at night till six in the morning. But Solomon tells us that there is a time to hate, and to kill, as well as to dance; and we have one instance at least in Scripture, where all these three things were done at one time. When Salome danced, Herodias hated, and Herod killed John the Baptist; which of these three persons had the strongest Scriptural support, from Solomon's words, for their conduct? The only dancing we remember of in Scripture that bears any resemblance to our balls and dancing parties, was that of the children of the wicked, mentioned in Job; of the Amalekites after the burning of Ziklag; of the shameless young fellows in the time of David; and of the daughter of Herodias at Herod's birth-day feast.
But the question will be put, what amusements would you recommend? You denounce horse-racing, theatres, gambling, balls; if you take away all these, what would you substitute? We frankly acknowledge that the subject of christian amusements is one of considerable difficulty, and one to which the christian public would do well to pay more attention Amusements are one of the last strongholds in which Satan entrenches himself in christian communities. The church of Christ should not be at rest till “holiness to the Lord” be written even upon the amusements of our youth, and Satan be page 406 dislodged from his last retreat. Young people must have some entertainment during days and hours of relaxation. Nature abhors a vacuum, said the ancient philosophers, and the human heart dreads vacuity. From the remarks that we have already made, it may be easily inferred that our belief is, that the only complete antidote against all this class of dangerous amusements, is a new heart and a high degree of spiritual-mindedness. When Christ is the centre around which the heart revolves, the vanities of earth, like eccentric comets or wandering planets, may act as disturbing forces; but they will fail to draw the soul from its proper orbit; it will still pursue its heavenward course.
But when amusements must be had, has not God spread the face of the earth with inexhaustible sources of innocent enjoyment? and all experience proves that the simple, soothing, and cheering entertainments that individuals and families can provide for themselves, are immeasurably more satisfying than those boisterous, exciting amusements that can be obtained only a few times in a year.
We every month direct our readers to one source of christian amusement—that which was the entertainment of innocent man in Eden; and surely in the beauty of flowers, in the fragrance of fruits, in the hum of bees, in the music of birds, in the sweet and never-ending charms of nature, there are rich sources of pure enjoyment. The music of paradise, and the calm and sweet delights of Eden, were certainly far superior to the harp and organ of Jubal, and all the noisy mirth that prevailed among the ungodly descendants of Cain. And certain we are that those who cultivate a taste for the beautiful and lovely in nature—who fill up their leisure hours with useful reading, profitable conversation, and other private and domestic enjoyments, will soon regard as tame and vulgar, the boisterous merriment of the ball-room, and the brazen-toned music of the modern Corybantes.
Let our young men and our young women cultivate page 407 their minds; let them store their memory with useful knowledge—exercise and strengthen their reasoning faculties by just reflection—seek the refinement of their feelings by the contemplation of pure and elevated objects of thought—become familiar with the choicest sentiments, both of the distinguished living and the illustrious dead;—above all, let them learn the songs, and practise the music, that will be sung in heaven;—let them seek active enjoyment in doing good:—for in this state of feeling, and in this mode of activity, mere selfish enjoyment and simple animal excitement will lose their deceitful charms, and it may be then said that Balls as well as
“Cards were superfluous here, with all the tricks
That idleness has ever yet contrived,
To fill the void of an unfurnished brain,
To palliate dulness, and give time a shove.”
* Vid. No. XX. pp. 268, 269.