Tripping the Light Fantastic with John Milton

This cartoon by the English illustrator William Heath (1794/5-1840) depicts two couples, ridiculously modish with their exaggerated fashions and hairstyles (including flower pots), dancing the quadrille. The caption alters John Milton's lyric "œL'Allegro," a poem celebrating carefree sociability (its companion lyric, "Il Penseroso," idealizes solitary retreats of contemplation). In "L'Allegro," the goddess has been summoned to visit the poet, bringing with her Jest, Jollity, and

Sport that wrinkled Care derides,
And Laughter holding both his sides.
Come, and trip it as ye go
On the light fantastic toe.
In place of "œLaughter holding both his sides," this satirical plate has "œFashion's showing off besides."


William Heath. La Finale. Etching, hand colored. London: Published by Thomas McLean, 26, Haymarket, ca. 1829.
The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, Jerome Robbins Dance Division.


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