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Home > Early Dance Texts > The Autobiography of Edward, Lord Herbert of Cherbury

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The Autobiography of Edward, Lord Herbert of Cherbury

-- The following are dance references from The Autobiography of Edward, Lord Herbert of Cherbury, c1643. The sections on dance are quoted from the edition edited by Sidney Lee initially written in 1886 and republished by George Routledge & Sons Limited in 1906. The editor notes that the truthfulness of Lord Herbert's autobiography is rather inconsistent, so it must always be read with some scepticism or awareness of possible omissions. (link to full text.) -- E. F. Winerock

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The exercises I chiefly used, and most recommend to my posterity, were riding the great horse and fencing, in which arts I had excellent masters, English, French, and Italian. As for dancing, I could never find leisure enough to learn it, as employing my mind always in acquiring of some art or science more useful; howbeit, I shall wish these three exercises learned in this order. (fn 1)

That dancing may be learnt first, as that which doth fashion the body, gives one a good presence in and address to all companies, since it disposeth the limbs to a kind of souplesse (as the Frenchmen call it) and agility, insomuch as they seem to have the use of their legs, arms, and bodies, more than any ohters, who, standing stiff and stark in their postures, seem as if they were taken in their joints, or had not the perfect use of their members. (fn 2) I speak not this yet as if I would have a youth never

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1. Sir R. Southwell thus describes the accomplishments of Lord Ossory, son of the first Duke of Ormonde (about 1650), a perfect specimen of the educated youth of the seventeenth century: 'He rides the great horse very well; is a good tennis-player, fencer, and dancer. He understands music, and plays on the guitar and lute; speaks French elegantly: ready Italian fluently, is a good historian, and so well versed in romances that if a gallery be full of pictures or hangings he will tell the stories of all of them that are described'. Cf. Thomas Lorkin's letter to Adam Newton, Prince Henry's tutor, respecting the completion of a young gentleman's education at Paris in 1610. Horse-riding, fencing, and dancing were to be paractised at stated hours daily. Ellis's Orig. Letters, second series, iii, 220, 221.)

2. Cf. Locke On Education, 1693, p. 307. 'Dancing... gives graceful motions all

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stand still in company, but only, that when he hath occasion to stir, his motions may be comely and graceful, that he may learn to know how to come in and go out of a room where company is, how to ake courtesies handsomely, according to the several degrees of persons he shall encounter, how to put off and hold his hat; all which, and many other things which become men, are taught by the more accurate dancing-masters in France.

The next exercise a young man should learn (but not before he is eleven or twelve years of age) is fencing...

[p. 40 -- In addition to his recommendation of dancing, fencing, and riding the great horse, Lord Herbert condones leaping, wrestling, vaulting on horsebook, and shooting the long bow for gentleman, is lukewarm towards racing horses, hunting, and hawking, allows bowling on occasion, but condems dicing and card playing. For social niceties he refers readers to Guazzo's La Civil Conversatione and della Casa's Il Galatheo.]

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2. cont. the life, and above all things manliness and a becoming confidence to oyoung children. Locke warns the pupil, however, against 'apish, affected postures', and only values the accomplishment 'as it tends to perfect graceful carriage'.

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Sometimes also I went to the court of the French king, Henry IV, who, upon information of me in the garden at the Tuilleries, received me with all courtesy, embracing me in his arms, and holding me some while there. I went sometimes also to the court of Queen Margaret at the Hostel, called by her name (fn 1); and here I saw many balls or masks, in all which it pleased that Queen publicly to place me next to her chair, not without the wonder of some, and the envy of another, who was wont to have that favour. I shall recount one accident which happened while I was there.

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1.i.e. Marguerite of Valois. M. Tallemant des Réaux (i, 165) tells some amusing stories about the ballets given by Queen Marguerite at her hotel. The Queen had been divorced from Henri IV in 1600, and her reputation was not good. Lord Herbert writes of her with greater justice in his Satyra addressed to Ben Jonson (September 1608), as

that swol'n vicious Queen Margaret,
Who were a monster ev'n without her sin!

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All things being ready for the ball, and every one being in their place, and I myself next to the Queen, expecting when the dancers would come in, one knocked at the door somewhat louder than became, as I thought, a very civil person.

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It was now in the time of Carnival, when the Duke, who loved the company of ladies and dancing as much as any prince whosoever, made divers masks and balls, in which his own daughters, among divers other ladies, danced; and here it was his manner to place me always with his own hand near some fair lady, wishing us both to entertain each other with some discourse, which was a great favour among the Italians. He did many other ways also declare the great esteem he had of me without coming to any particular...

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They conducted me to the great hall of the governor, where the Duke of Montmorency, and divers other cavaliers, had been dancing with the ladies...

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When foul weather was, they spent their time in visits at each other's houses, where they interchanged civil discourses, or heard music, or fell to dancing, using, according to the manner of that country, all the reasonable liberties they could with their honour, while their manner was, either in the garden of the Tuileries, or elsewhere, if any one discoursing with a lady did see some other of good fashion approach to her, he would leave her and go to some other lady, he who conversed with her at that time quitting her also, and going to some other, that so addresses might be made equal and free to all without scruple on any part, neither was exception made, or quarrel begun, upon these terms.

 

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