A Gondola Dinner That Cost $20,000

Abridged from Royal Magazine December 1 1908

A Gondola Dinner That Cost $20,000

Abridged from Royal Magazine December 1 1908

A Gondola Dinner That Cost $20,000

Abridged from Royal Magazine

THE world never tires of talking wealth. The romance of affluence, as enduring as the hills, fascinates because it is inseparable from the aspirations of mankind. Comparatively few attain their desired standard of opulence, but the activities of their imagination remain unimpaired, and give zest to the process of passing the world's wealthiest people in critical review.

Popular conception of “how the rich live” is accordingly apt to be somewhat awry, since it places no restriction on individual possession, and invariably associates a big banking account with prodigious prodigality. The Inspector-General in Bankruptcy lends color to the suspicion, by citing case? of noteworthy extravagance, and a captious age has done the rest. The British Empire produces its rich in abundance, but the majority of the best families feel thenresponsibilities to the country they live in, and spend their money liberally, but, withal, intelligently. Although it may not appear cn the surface, the spending of a fortune is accompanied by as many perils and difficulties as is the making ot one.

The effect of riches, whether acquire'1, oi inherited, on the welfare of the nation '.s enormous; and the habit in Great Britain of spending money freely and judiciously ma\ be said to be a recognized obligation of tire wealthy, notwithstanding that, when regarded from a more circumscribed point of view, individual items in the account appear seemingly extravagant.

In regard to the Englishman who is in receipt of a yearly income between £30,000 and £40,000, unless he leads the life of a recluse or develops a morbid selfishness, he has responsibilities, from the social standpoint,which cannot be shelved. As befits his station in life, he must entertain as gen erously as he has been entertained. To do this effectively—that is, from the recreative standard—he must have a town and country house. A residence in the West End of London will cost anything between £2,000 and £3,000 a year, while the upkeep and establishment charges will double

that amount. His country house, with its big parties and shoots, hunts, and other festivities, will account for £5,000, besides which he keeps in mind local expectations while playing the part of a country gentleman.

Horses, motors, yachting, racing, represent a very considerable sum, while traveling abroad makes further inroads to the extent of a thousand or so. A box at the Opera for a season, jewelry, clothing, wines, cigars and other incidentals, make a perceptible impression on the exchequer; while, as the family advances into the teens, education forms a formidable item.

At a still later period, when the daughter makes her debut in society, the exactions due to Mayfair are decidedly extensive. In addition to the cost of dress material of the girl during the London season must 'be added £800 for incidental expenses and presents, so that the first season out easily represents a drain of between £1,000 and £2,000 on the purse of paterfamilias.

Hobbies—somewhat costly, maybe—must be taken into the reckoning; and last, but not least, charitable contributions have to be included. Indeed, the liberality of the benevolent rich in London constitutes one of the most valuable signs of the times. The sum aggregates the enormous total of £10,000,000 per annum.

Entertaining, of course, is as varied as it is universal and as costly as it is popular. When the Government in a moment of liberality set aside the sum of £5,000 to be spent annually in providing hospitable fare for distinguished guests, there was a disposition to regard the innovation both as a dangerous departure and the embodiment of lavish excess.

There are scores of society leaders who find it needs a display of rigid economy to keep their entertainment account within the confines of £5,000 a year. Garden parties are considered to offer some sort of solution of the problem of how to restrict expenditure in regard to social festivities, but in a climate so uncertain as this the experi-

ment at best can only be tried in the summer and early autumn, while it is apt to prove a double-edged expedient in the event of the appointed day being wet.

It is during the ball season that the cost-

At the Savoy Hotel in June, 1905, a dinner costing over £3,000 was given in a floating gondola by Mr. G. A. Kessler. The entire arrangements were completed within twenty-four hours. There were at work one hundred and twenty electricians and scene-painters, fifteen special cooks, and eighteen waiters. The latter, who wore Venetian costumes, had their apparel finished two hours before the function. Mr. Kessler entertained twenty-four guests in a large white gondola floating in the old courtyard of the hotel, which had been flooded for the evening. The guests walked into the flower-decked boat across a bridge, and sat down on gilt chairs at one long table. While the dinner was being served, music came from another gondola floating nearby. Round the walls were hung Venetian scenes, including the Piazza of St. Mark and the Campanile, and white pigeons flew about or nestled among the flowers, making the Venetian illusion complete. The guests included Madame Rejane and Signor Caruso.

liness of complying with society obligations shows itself. Such functions as are associated with the principal West End mansions represent the expenditure of thousands of pounds. The average is about £2 per guest.

The feverish desire for the acquisition of

wealth—not so much for the possession of it as for the means of lavish and rank expenditure—was a destructive mark in the closing days of the Roman Empire. Pliny found in the artificial growth of asparagus,

the costly decoration of rooms, and the use of ices, evidences of unbridled extravagances foredoomed to national disaster. What deductions he would have drawn from New York freak-dinners can only be faintly surmised.

There are, however, indications of vast

changes coming over America’s wealthiest men. Great wealth has always had a secret longing for the austere delights of self-abnegation. Hence, Mr. Samuel Dunlop, one of the best-known millionaires, has denied himself the privilege of buying more than one; new suit of clothes in a period of forty years. Mexico’s richest man, Pedro Alvarado, after equipping a gorgeous palace, elected to spend his days in a poorly fitted cellar; while Signor Romolo, suddenly inheriting great wealth, tried a life of luxurious ease for six months, and then sought pleasure and repose in the life of a waiter. Mr. John D. Rockefeller finds solace in the role of a hard-working Baptist. Mr. Cornelius Vanderbilt was a vestryman; Mr. J. Wanamaker was an elder of the Presbyterian Church, and controls the largest Bible class in the world. Another noted

millionaire, Mr. W. E. Dodge, is a Presbyterian elder; Mr. J. D. Archibald, of the Standard Oil Company, is an enthusiastic Methodist. Mr. Schwab affects the simple life, while Mr. Wiston Brown prefers to play the part of a fisherman. This group forms an interesting contrast to the younger section of American millionaires, who exhibit a restless longing to plunge into the whirlpools of extravagance. “Doing Europe,” once an educational mission, is now largely regarded as a befitting chance for fantastically expending vast wealth. The American invasion has this year fallen short of its immediate predecessors, owing to financial disturbances, but nevertheless it is estimated that visitors from the United States have spent several millions of pounds during the last eight months in quest of pleasure in Europe.