COUNT UGLY’S MASKED BALL

Stated in a Dialogue betwixt a Prude and a Coquet, last Masquerade Night, the 12th of May …

London: Printed for J. Roberts … 1724.

Folio, pp. [2], 8; a good copy, disbound.

£2250

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First edition, rare, of an amusing verse dialogue between two women preparing to attend one of the popular masquerade balls staged by the Swiss impresario John James Heidegger. Hilaria, a coquette, is effusive about the pleasures of the imminent party and she offers a tempting vision of the delights of the masquerade: ‘so vast the crowds, so num’rous are the lights / … I Chat, – I Laugh, – I Dance, – with Coquet’s Art, / Play over all my Tricks; – yet keep my heart.’ Her friend Lucretia, a prude, is sceptical, though her warnings are somewhat undermined by the crude sexual puns in which she frames her advice:

The Fort of Chastity does shew some Strength,
Its Fossè too of goodly Depth and Length;
But then if Man produces one Great Gun,
The Fort’s demolish’d, and our Sex undone.

The conversation ends with a comic twist: the prudish Lucretia, now converted by Hilaria, departs for the Ball to meet Philander (who, inconstant wretch, is sworn to Hilaria).

John James Heidegger played a notable role in the introduction of Italian opera to London. His masked balls were hugely popular among the upper classes at the beginning of the eighteenth century, in part because of their notoreity for licentious behavour, and tickets were sold for as much as a guinea and a half each. Success brought less welcome attention too, and Heidegger, who was also famed for his ugliness, was satirised in prints by Hogarth, in verse by Pope, and as ‘Count Ugly’ by Swift.

ESTC shows six copies: BL (2 copies), Manchester Central Library; Harvard, Texas, and Yale.

Foxon B 20, Ashley Library, IX, 80.

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