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The Horse Show
by [?]

“As good as the circus–not so good as the circus–better than the circus.” These were my varying impressions, as I sat looking down upon the tanbark, the other day, at the Horse Show in Madison Square Garden; and I came away with their blend for my final opinion.


I might think that the Horse Show (which is so largely a Man Show and a Woman Show) was better or worse than the circus, or about as good; but I could not get away from the circus, in my impression of it. Perhaps the circus is the norm of all splendors where the horse and his master are joined for an effect upon the imagination of the spectator. I am sure that I have never been able quite to dissociate from it the picturesqueness of chivalry, and that it will hereafter always suggest to me the last correctness of fashion. It is through the horse that these far extremes meet; in all times the horse has been the supreme expression of aristocracy; and it may very well be that a dream of the elder world prophesied the ultimate type of the future, when the Swell shall have evolved into the Centaur.

Some such teasing notion of their mystical affinity is what haunts you as you make your round of the vast ellipse, with the well-groomed men about you and the well-groomed horses beyond the barrier.

In this first affair of the new–comer, the horses are not so much on show as the swells; you get only glimpses of shining coats and tossing manes, with a glint here and there of a flying hoof through the lines of people coming and going, and the ranks of people, three or four feet deep, against the rails of the ellipse; but the swells are there in perfect relief, and it is they who finally embody the Horse Show to you. The fact is that they are there to see, of course, but the effect is that they are there to be seen.

The whole spectacle had an historical quality, which I tasted with pleasure. It was the thing that had eventuated in every civilization, and the American might feel a characteristic pride that what came to Rome in five hundred years had come to America in a single century. There was something fine in the absolutely fatal nature of the result, and I perceived that nowhere else in our life, which is apt to be reclusive in its exclusiveness, is the prime motive at work in it so dramatically apparent. “Yes,” I found myself thinking, “this is what it all comes to: the ‘subiti guadagni’ of the new rich, made in large masses and seeking a swift and eager exploitation, and the slowly accumulated fortunes, put together from sparing and scrimping, from slaving and enslaving, in former times, and now in the stainless white hands of the second or third generation, they both meet here to the purpose of a common ostentation, and create a Horse Show.”

I cannot say that its creators looked much as if they liked it, now they had got it; and, so far as I have been able to observe them, people of wealth and fashion always dissemble their joy, and have the air of being bored in the midst of their amusements. This reserve of rapture may be their delicacy, their unwillingness to awaken envy in the less prospered; and I should not have objected to the swells at the Horse Show looking dreary if they had looked more like swells; except for a certain hardness of the countenance (which I found my own sympathetically taking on) I should not have thought them very patrician, and this hardness may have been merely the consequence of being so much stared at. Perhaps, indeed, they were not swells whom I saw in the boxes, but only companies of ordinary people who had clubbed together and hired their boxes; I understand that this can be done, and the student of civilization so far misled. But certainly if they were swells they did not look quite up to themselves; though, for that matter, neither do the nobilities of foreign countries, and on one or two occasions when I have seen them, kings and emperors have failed me in like manner. They have all wanted that indescribable something which I have found so satisfying in aristocracies and royalties on the stage; and here at the Horse Show, while I made my tour, I constantly met handsome, actor-like folk on foot who could much better have taken the role of the people in the boxes. The promenaders may not have been actors at all; they may have been the real thing for which I was in vain scanning the boxes, but they looked like actors, who indeed set an example to us all in personal beauty and in correctness of dress.