How strange! At the beginning of the evening — when it could scarcely have been said to be evening at all, when I first stepped in off the street to escape the heat of the late afternoon and found myself amidst a gathering of friends in loo-masks — I found myself compelled to stay and watch the dramaticals, considering it both a droll and improving way to pass the hours before supper. And indeed the promise tendered by my eyes did not go unfulfilled! All manner of delights seemed to stream before me, the worthiest of pleasures, the most marvelous of subtleties, Philomela instructing her handmaidens in pastoral rites, all that which is pleasing, noble, astonishing, valuable, and stirring to both the nerves and to the spirit. I even selected for myself a simple black domino-mask, the better to enter into the spirit of the proceedings, and to lose myself within the mode of the crowd. When so much of the world weighs itself upon the nerves, and so many cares crowd the heart, what freshness, what sweetness to find something truly diverting! And indeed I found the room a very world in itself — more than a world, a heaven, spilling over with hobby-horses, harlequins, wild men and woodwoses, paladins, Myrmidons, monsters and marvelous beasts, Columbinas and Pierrots, zannis and dottores, soldiers and saints, almond-sellers, abbots, caskers, and sundry and all beside. How voluptuous our pleasure! How perfumed our joy! How light the steps of the women, how well-turned the gait of the men! What need had we of faces, when there were marvels to be seen?
And yet, with the passing of the sun into darkness, and the splitting of her rays into torch-light, do not the shadows stretch forth from the corners of the room, twisting the painted expressions of the partygoers from smile to grimace? Do not these sculpted laughs resemble now a sneer? Can it be that that which was intended to cultivate delight is now fit only to excite disgust, fear, even horror? Are not these variegated entertainments a form of delirium? How my pleasure palls, as I look upon my fellow partygoers, who mere moments ago seemed to me to be charming companions, and find myself shuddering in repulsion. A series of wraiths, of frozen dreams! The music wild, the laughter forced, the pleasure feigned, hollow, poisoned, without form or substance. What dreadful joy! How the drapery and background appall! How these masks repel me – and yet how I fear their removal! How truly grotesque the masque becomes! In covering our faces, I fear we have covered our humanity as well. The room seems to spin as laughing faces bulge in and out of focus, whirling as a if bound to a farce-wheel, a horseabout, the Italian garosello. What I would not give for the sight of an honest girl’s nose, of a sincere citizen’s cheek – these masks were made for pleasure, but I find myself drained withal! What truly pleases is the face, rightly-wrought by God’s hand only, and not a Venetian cunning-smith – give me a face, any face, for the love of God — !