THERE is nothing unusual in the fact that some of the leading representatives of wealth and fashion in the nation’s metropolis are about to amuse themselves and at the same time accent their standing in “society” by means of a fancy-dress ball, at a cost of a quarter of a million of dollars. Ostentatious wealth has long been wont to manifest itself in this way. The noteworthy feature in the present instance is not the event itself, but its materialization in the face of an all too necessary display of direful and widespread poverty.
The gaunt spectre of desperate human want stalks through the land, and extravagant luxury dares to display herself almost at its side. If the former should turn upon the latter, there would be no occasion for surprise.
It is said in defense of this extravagant affair that it has furnished a large amount of extra employment to costume makers, which is no doubt true. And it is better, of course, that the money should be spent in some way than hoarded in vaults. But there is little or nothing in this to offset the effect of such a flaunting of superfluous wealth in the face of destitution. Probably no worse method could be taken of letting the army of poverty know that they stand in close proximity to almost limitless wealth, which its holders prefer to spend in the most useless manner rather than apply it to their relief.
The situation has attracted attention even in Europe  and the comments which come from that quarter, while not of a nature to foster American pride, are worthy of notice. The London Daily News, of January 26, has the following:—
“In America society is very old, reckoning its age by its ideas, and there is nothing more characteristic in society of that kind than the defiant animation with which the people dance when anybody ventures to whisper that they are on the edge of a volcano. Mr. Bradley-Martin and his guests have no belief in a volcano, and they are making every preparation for a good time.
“Our own younger and altogether more modern community would be disturbed by such discussion, and would probably tone down the frolic and redouble its attentions to the East End.”
The same paper notes further that—
“There is a certain suggestiveness in some of the costumes for which arrangements have already been made. There is to be an abundance of Louis XVI. And Marie Antoinette. Louis the well-beloved will not be forgotten, and it is quite conceivable that some cynic may choose to represent the monarch whose private party for the encouragement of trade was so rudely disturbed by the handwriting on the wall.”
Europe has had centuries of experience in dealing with the problems which arise from abnormal social conditions, and her thinking men are qualified to speak understandingly upon such subjects. It is quite possible that a clearer view of the dangers which threaten this Republic from class antagonism is to be found on the other side of the Atlantic than is commanded by the vast majority of those directly concerned.
It is a fact that fancied security often hovers on the brink of the precipice; and finite humanity, when blinded by selfish indulgences and selfish hopes, has often danced above a volcano. We do not allude to these things to excite alarm, but because it is better to know the truth, even though it cause alarm, than to borrow ease from ignorance. It is best to be alarmed, if need be, while there is time to profit by the experience. It is truth that we want, first and always.
When such things happen in a government “of the people, by the people, and for the people,” it is much worse than would be the case under a monarchy. The revolution which they breed will be against republican government, and only despotism in some form can be the result.