DANCES and balls are things in themselves indifferent, but the
circumstances ordinarily surrounding them have so generally an evil
tendency, that they become full of temptation and danger. The time of
night at which they take place is in itself conducive to harm, both as
the season when people’s nerves are most excited and open to evil
impressions; and because, after being up the greater part of the night,
they spend the mornings afterwards in sleep, and lose the best part of
the day for God’s Service. It is a senseless thing to turn day into
night, light into darkness, and to exchange good works for mere
trifling follies. Moreover, those who frequent balls almost inevitably
foster their Vanity, and vanity is very conducive to unholy desires and
I am inclined to say about balls what doctors say of certain articles
of food, such as mushrooms and the like–the best are not good for
much; but if eat them you must, at least mind that they are properly
cooked. So, if circumstances over which you have no control take you
into such places, be watchful how you prepare to enter them. Let the
dish be seasoned with moderation, dignity and good intentions. The
doctors say (still referring to the mushrooms), eat sparingly of them,
and that but seldom, for, however well dressed, an excess is harmful.
So dance but little, and that rarely, my daughter, lest you run the
risk of growing over fond of the amusement.
Pliny says that mushrooms, from their porous, spongy nature, easily
imbibe meretricious matter, so that if they are near a serpent, they
are infected by its poison. So balls and similar gatherings are wont to
attract all that is bad and vicious; all the quarrels, envyings,
slanders, and indiscreet tendencies of a place will be found collected
in the ballroom. While people’s bodily pores are opened by the exercise
of dancing, the heart’s pores will be also opened by excitement, and if
any serpent be at hand to whisper foolish words of levity or impurity,
to insinuate unworthy thoughts and desires, the ears which listen are
more than prepared to receive the contagion.
Believe me, my daughter, these frivolous amusements are for the most
part dangerous; they dissipate the spirit of devotion, enervate the
mind, check true charity, and arouse a multitude of evil inclinations
in the soul, and therefore I would have you very reticent in their use.
To return to the medical simile;–it is said that after eating
mushrooms you should drink some good wine. So after frequenting balls
you should frame pious thoughts which may counteract the dangerous
impressions made by such empty pleasures on your heart. Bethink you,
then–1. That while you were dancing, souls were groaning in hell by
reason of sins committed when similarly occupied, or in consequence
2. Remember how, at the selfsame time, many religious and other devout
persons were kneeling before God, praying or praising Him. Was not
their time better spent than yours?
3. Again, while you were dancing, many a soul has passed away amid
sharp sufferings; thousands and tens of thousands were lying all the
while on beds of anguish, some perhaps untended, unconsoled, in fevers,
and all manner of painful diseases. Will you not rouse yourself to a
sense of pity for them? At all events, remember that a day will come
when you in your turn will lie on your bed of sickness, while others
dance and make merry.
4. Bethink you that our Dear Lord, Our Lady, all the Angels and Saints,
saw all that was passing. Did they not look on with sorrowful pity,
while your heart, capable of better things, was engrossed with such
5. And while you were dancing time passed by, and death drew nearer.
Trifle as you may, the awful dance of death  must come, the real
pastime of men, since therein they must, whether they will or no, pass
from time to an eternity of good or evil. If you think of the matter
quietly, and as in God’s Sight, He will suggest many a like thought,
which will steady and strengthen your heart.
 S. Francis de Sales doubtless had in his thoughts the then common
pictorial representations of the Dance of Death, with which (although
to our own modern ideas there would be almost irreverence if
reproduced) we are familiar through Holbein’s celebrated Dance, and
others. The old covered bridge at Lucerne is one of the most striking