The Victorian Society in America, which has had it up to here with steel and glass and has returned to plush, port and potted palms, turned out 220-strong for asparagus pudding and similar rotund comforts at their annual banquet Friday night in St. Mark's Church.
Dinner in front of the altar? Is that a Victorian thing to do?
"We at first wanted to have it in the Smithsonian Castle," said architect Dudley Brown. "The tortures of the damned. But I won't go into all of it. Fortunately, one day God spoke to me and said, 'Do it at St. Mark's.'"
And God was right.
Diners sat on chairs that become pews on Sundays, and the white napery of the tables was splendidly interrupted by tazzas full of daisies and roses and compotes of fruit, all lit by candles. All round, the dignity of the bare brick walls, laid in the 1890s when brick was brick and brick masons were brick masons, and architects were achitects, rose up in the dim light.
Humor, vigor, taste, craftsmanship - it is odd that so few have remarked St. Mark's is the best-looking church in Washington. If one may speak the truth under the guise of opinion.
As for the food, suffice it to say the plates were bare as the moon by 411:30.
You will not believe what people wore. One handsome woman wore a western cowboy hat and, it was said, spurs. Saloon ladies and California types were Victorians, too, don't forget that.
One young woman from Gainesville, Fla., Kathleen Yurgilos, drew admirers in droves, with her waise no thicker than an antelope's elbow, and a blouse of black lace bordered by crimson sleeves that puffed out like spring in bloom. All this over a sort of silky apricot-colored skirt.
"Aha," said an older man who must have been a scholar of costume design, "your dress is 1894-96."
The young woman beamed.
"Yes, 1895-96," she said, "and more 1895 than 1896."
"Indeed," he said. "Just before the sleeves collapsed somewhat."
"Exactly," said the woman. She had spent endless hours researching the design, then had a royal old time trying to sew it, since nothing - "but nothing" - could be done on the sewing machine.
It goes to show you these people mean business and are not to be trifled with. They know whether something is more 1878 or 1879. An ignoramus would guess 1875.
The young woman teaches art, she said, and her favorite painters are Redon, Puvis de Chavannes and Sir Edward Coley Burne-Jones.
Nothing is ever lost, remember that. And with the Victorians nothing would ever be thrown away if they had a say.
Of course not everybody was dressed for leaning out the gold bar of Heav'n with lilies (as the poet Rosetti said), and there were a lot of men present, including Ronald Alvarez, president of the 200-member Washington chapter of the Victorians. He lives in a Victorian pile on S Street, but you don't have to have such a place. Flora Jacobs, for example, lives in Chevy Chase Village and she's legal.
Marian Yost used to live in a big house in Cleveland full of Victorian furniture she never paid any attention to until a Victorian authority told her how incredible it all was.
She has moved to the suburbs now, where she likes to watch "the young men playing tennis." She wore pearls and diamonds in her gray hair, but she had a devilish smile and one feared she was only half-Victorian at heart.
Helen Attridge of Boston, formerly of Black Bay, did not eat her lamb chop, it was noticed. The most astonishing misfortune plagues her when traveling, she had to admit. She has no trouble - no more than all mortals - with teeth, but every time she goes any where some minor emergency arises.
"You should try finding a dentist in Genoa," she said. She also had amazing dentist adventures in Madrid.
In Washington she was sent to a certain address for a dentist and behold, there was a hole in the ground where his office used to be. She is beginning to have a thing about dentists or travel or both.
It is what comes of leaving Boston where you have dentists.
Bagpipers were clamoring at the base of the tower.
"Turning up?" asked a young man.
The piper stopped long enough to say he was in perfect tune already, thank you.
"I had rather hear the Bostom Symphony tuning up that a lot of that cacophonous new music they play," said Attridge.
In Victoria's day they certainly didn't have all that stuff coming out of Rochester (the Eastern School of Music), everyone agreed.
A throne had been set up in the choir, just back of a wrought-iron screen that obstructed nothing.
Pipers entered the room and scared the beetles out of the wooden trusses of the roof, and a fellow in kilts did a sword dance and then there was a solemn thomping.
"God Save The Queen" started up, and Ann Cannon (a great Victorian of Capitol Hill) strode forth beneath the Louis Tiffany window. She represented Victoria in her Empress of India days, only 80 pounds too light if you want to be pedantic, and ascended the throne. She told us we did much credit to ourselves in honoring her. Sounded like Victoria, all right.
It was not entirely fair of the Victorians to choose St. Mark's, perhaps, since not many buildings of the period are so disarming or so satisfying.
How often you hear it said that if you can focus your mind on President Grant jogging with an elephant around the Ellipse, you have all the essentials of the Victorian style.
"In London," said Attridge, "they once tarned and feathered an Epstein statue, they were so outraged by it."
She was observing that people have different tastes.
"Everything is outrageous. Eveything," said someone at another table, too tired to catalogue our present century.
'I think I shall take the cemetery tour," said one - it is one of many attractions enjoyed by the members over the weekend, along with a candlelight tour of Dupont Circle which, like the cemeteries of Washington, is full of Victorian remains.
The society (with 4,500 members nationally) is not without laughter. They sell, among other publications, an illustrated guide to private of the Victorian era, and the text is straight-faced and sober and each picture of some wooden ruin is graced with fairly high-sounding critical comments as if the thing were Chatres.
The society's realm of interest includes all the fine and applied arts, as well as history and literature and everything else in the 19th century. In one issue of their magazine they claimed Emerson.
"Gentlemen," cried Alverez along towards midnight, after some hours of agreeable conversation at the tables, when the candles were burning pretty low and the ash trays were overflowing with butts:
"Gentlemen, you may now smoke." (Laughter from the Empress of India.)