Source: Benjamin Silliman, A Journal of Travels in England, Holland, and Scotland, and of two passages over the Atlantic, in the years 1805 and 1806, vol. 1 (Boston: T.B. Wait and Co. for Howe and Deforest, and Increase Cook and Co. Newhaven, 1812), pp. 268-269
Production: Zittaw; or, The Woodman’s Daughter, Astley’s Amphitheatre, London, 19 July 1805
Text: ASTLEY’S AMPHITHEATRE. July 19. — I had made an appointment to meet an American friend this evening, at the door of Astley’s amphitheatre, which is just over Westminster bridge on the Surry side. This theatre is precisely on the plan of the royal circus, and the entertainments are of the same kind, that is, pantomime, buffoonery, and riding. The house is very splendid, and the scenery, decorations, and machinery are in a style of very uncommon elegance.
The evening was opened with the pantomime of Zittaw, or the Woodman’s daughter. It was the most intelligible pantomime that I have ever seen ; this was owing to the liberty they took of speaking certain parts in plain English — of singing others, and of frequently displaying pieces of painted cloth, containing, in large capitals, a hint of the story.
And what was the subject of the pantomime? Do you ask? It was that which is the first, second and third thing in all theatrical performances.
If we are to believe the theatres, love is a most sanguinary passion, for it rarely comes to a catastrophe without murder. They killed no fewer than four, in the course of this pantomime. Even the lady herself, who is the heroine of the story, is made, in the progress of the representation, to appear on the stage, and to fence for a good while, with one of her unsuccessful suitors, whom at length, (being unable to des patch him with the sword,) she destroys with a pistol ball. It is to be hoped that this was not a very faithful copy of life, for, surely, it is enough to be repulsed, without being murdered besides.
Comments: Benjamin Silliman (1779-1864) was a pioneering American chemist. The ‘pantomime’ he saw while visiting London in 1805 was presumably based on the gothic story Zittaw the Cruel; or The Woodsman’s Daughter, A Polish Romance by prolific writer of chapbooks Sarah Wilkinson. Astley’s Amphitheatre was originally a circus (opened 1770), but later put on pantomimes and other such entertainments. It was located by Westminster Bridge and had burned down twice before it became famous in the 1800s for its equestrian spectaculars.
Links: Copy at Hathi Trust