Friday, September 24, 2010

Harvesting at Assemblies

Have you brought in your harvest yet? It is officially autumn, and September 22 marked the traditional time of Harvest Home in nineteenth century England. Harvest Home celebrated the end of hay-making, when all the hay and other crops had been gathered for the winter. If your dear Papa owned lands, he probably offered his tenants and farm laborers a gift of money in thanks for a good season. If your dear Papa was one of those laborers, you’d have probably spent Harvest Home celebrating with him at a big dinner with all the workers, followed by jokes, stories, and songs. Here’s how a gentleman from Dorset remembered it in 1832:

“The conversation commonly turned on the incidents of the summer: how the hay-makers overtook the mowers, or how the rain kept the labor back; how they all crept in a heap under the wagon in a thunderstorm; how nearly some of them were crushed under the load that was upset; who was the best mower or reaper in the village; which field yielded the best crop; and which stack was most likely to heat.”

Either way, the harvest time was a jolly good time for a ball.

We’ve talked about public and private balls before. Public balls were generally held in assembly rooms and so might be called assemblies. Jane Austen talks about going to assemblies in her letters to her sister Cassandra. Take this one from Lyme Regis in September 1804:

“The ball last night was pleasant, but not full for Thursday. . . Nobody asked me to dance the two first dances – the next two I danced with Mr. Crawford – and had I chosen to stay longer might have danced with Mr. Granville, Mrs. Granville’s son – whom my dear friend Miss Armstrong introduced me to – or a new, odd-looking man, who had been eyeing me for some time, and at last without introduction asked me if I meant to dance again.”

You see, the primary “harvest” of an assembly was acquaintance. You went to meet old friends and make new ones. At the assembly, you danced, you promenaded about the room on a gentleman’s or a girl friend’s arm and whispered confidences, you partook of light refreshment and strong gossip. If you were on the lookout for a husband, you flirted and visited and preened to catch the right fellow’s eye.

In the mood for dancing yourself? A group recently introduced themselves to us, and so we pass along the introduction. Mostly Waltz RI is just beginning its season this Sunday with beautiful live music. In addition to the waltzes, the program includes a basic waltz lesson and waltz mixers along with occasional other couple dances. If, like me, you don't live anywhere near Rhode Island, look for other contra dance or English Country Dance groups in your area.

Who knows what you might harvest?

And speaking of harvesting, return next week to reap of bounty. I hear someone will be giving away books.


QNPoohBear said...

The waltz group sounds like fun but alas not for a poor student. Maybe I'll get to check it out eventually if they continue. Thanks for letting us know!

Regina Scott said...

No problem! They do sound like fun!