Musicians

An East End Music-Hall

Source: Robert Machray, The Night Side of London (Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott Company, 1902), pp. 112-124

Text: AN EAST END MUSIC-HALL

Let youth, more decent in their follies, scoff
The nauseous scene, and hiss thee reeling off.”

Steele, The Tatler, No. 266.

The music-hall must be considered a chief feature of the Night Side of London; it is certainly one of the most popular, whether in the West End or the East. Its leading comedian, Mr. Dan Leno, has been honoured by a “command” of the King. It is a far cry, however, from the humour and whimsicalities of “good old Dan” to the comicalities of the typical East End music-hall star. But it matters not whether the hall is within a stone’s throw of Piccadilly or outside the radius, it is ever a popular institution. One of the sights of the town is the long queue of people standing outside the Alhambra, the Empire, the Palace, the Tivoli, the “Pav.,” the Oxford, and other halls, until the
doors leading to pit and gallery are thrown open. The queue often has to wait for a considerable time, sometimes in the pouring rain, but it does so with wonderful patience and good-humour — the wait being frequently enlivened by the strains of the n[—–] minstrel, or some other open-air entertainer. To-night you shall go to the Palace of Varieties at Greenwich. Last night you were at Deptford, and now you travel half a mile or more further south-eastward. Perhaps you begin this particular evening with a fish-dinner at the famous Ship, just opposite Greenwich Hospital, and though the Ship is not quite the fashionable resort it once was, you may do a great deal worse than dine there.

You make your way to the Palace of Varieties, Greenwich. You are. perhaps, a trifle late, and on inquiry you find the only seats left are “fauteuils,” price one-and-six. For a thorough appreciation of the humours of the scene you should have come earlier and got a place in the gallery, price threepence. But you have no option, so you plunge recklessly, and bang goes one-and-sixpence. The fauteuils prove to be seats in the front row, and those vacant when you arrive are immediately behind the conductor of the orchestra. Well, you are a bit too near the music, but there is some compensation, for you are able to see how the conductor conducts and at the same time adds to the quality and tone of his band. With his left hand, you observe, he plays a piano what time he manipulates a harmonium with his right. And all the while he seems to be able to exchange confidences with the first violin, who, you cannot fail to perceive, is a wag. You do not take this in all at once, for your eyes at first are fastened on the stage, where two comely females are engaged in a vigorous encounter of words, which you surmise may lead eventually to something very like blows — as it does. You pick up the subject or the object, which you please, of the duel of tongues between the two ladies, one of whom is dressed like a superior shop-assistant, while the other might be a factory-girl. They both lay claim to the affections of a certain “Charlie,” and in the wordy warfare that ensues they do not spare each other. “Do you know,” asks the superior shop-assistant in a shrill voice, “that I have blue blood in my veins?” “What I do know,” retorts the other, with great deliberation, “is that you’ll soon have red blood on your nose!” Whereat the house, hugely tickled, roars delightedly. “Do you know,” cries the first, “that my father occupies an important, a very important, position in the town?” “As a mud-pusher, I suppose!” And again the audience screams its appreciation; indeed, the audience does this on the slightest provocation during this particular “turn.” Finally, the end you have foreseen comes. A little fisticuff battle concludes the action — without any damage to either of the scrappers, who suddenly stop, shake hands, and stand bowing and smiling before the footlights. The curtain descends, and the band plays a loud and lively air, the cornet, in particular, adding several horse-power to its volume and momentum, so to speak.

Next appears upon the stage a young lady, rouged, powdered, decolletée, short-frocked; she is a mimic, and, as you soon perceive, a clever one. She gives personations of some well-known popular music-hall favourites. Thus, she imitates Eugene Stratton in his “Lily of Laguna,” and Happy Fanny Fields in a American-German song. In the latter character she says to the audience, “Why don’t you applaud me more? Don’t you know that the more you applaud me the more money I make?” And don’t they applaud! The place fairly rocks with laughter and hoarse shouts. To this young lady succeeds the Artist Lightning Sketcher — he is also a ventriloquist. He provides himself with the figures ventriloquists usually introduce into their pieces by a very simple device. He draws them on a large sheet of paper with chalks of red, black, and green, while you look on. Next he makes you a picture of St. Peter’s at Rome on a big smoked plate — and all in a minute or two. Then he does something even more ambitious — it is his great lightning picture, called “The Home of the Sea Gull.” There is a large white sheet of paper on a board; he takes various chalks — vermilion, blue, green, black, orange — and hey! presto, there are blue sky, green water, black rocks, white gulls, and a black steamer (a Newcastle boat, evidently) belching forth black smoke, to say nothing of a black man in a black boat! And all in a moment. No wonder the audience shouts its approval. This spurs the lightning artist to a Still More Amazing Feat. Stepping forward with a profound bow, he announces that he will, in a couple of moments, without rubbing out a single mark on “The Home of the Sea Gull,” convert that masterpiece into another, and very different, picture, entitled ” A Summer Evening Walk in the Country.” And he does it! Wonderful man! Again flash the chalks of vermilion, blue, green black, orange. The blue sk ynow gorgeous with the splendours of a dying sunset; the green water becomes green earth; the black rocks are transformed into black trees; the black steamboat, and the black man, and the black boat, are replaced by black trees with black foliage; and the white gulls roost under cover of the black leaves also. Finally, a touch or two, and there is a pair of lovers in the foreground. “I calls that fine,” says a deep voice behind you; “‘e’s clever, ‘e is!” Every one thinks the same, for the lightning artist is awarded thunderous applause, as is only right in the circumstances. And yet there may be some who say that Art is not appreciated in this country!

Now there trips upon the platform another young lady. First she sings a song about a young angel from the Angel (at Isling-t-u-n) who had four little angels at ‘ome, although the gay young spark who was courting her appeared to be unaware of this extremely interesting fact.
Somehow, the fact does not interest the audience, and the song is received with the sort of silence that is audible half a mile awav. “Ain’t no good,” says the deep voice in the rear: “she’ll ‘ave to go!” Poor girl! But her second turn is a dance, and this is received with considerable favour, so perhaps she will be kept on after all. To fail at even an East End hall must be a terrible business for an artiste; it means, if it means anything, the streets, starvation, death. While your mind may, perhaps, run on in this melancholy fashion a lion comique puts in an appearance, and your thoughts are whirled away. The lion comique is nothing if not immensely patriotic. In an enormous voice he shouts that King Edward is “one of the best” of kings; is a second verse he yells that Lord Charles Beresford is “one of the best” in the navy; in a third that General Buller is “one of the best” in the army — all of which statements are uproariously welcomed. This patriotic ditty is followed by a sentimental song, “When the Children are All in Bed,” and it is keenly appreciated. The audience, led by the first violin, who plays and, at the same time, sings the air with all the strength of his lungs, takes up the chorus with might and main. For your East Ender loves a sentimental song nearly as much as he loves his beer.

And now there comes the chief turn on the programme — it is a Sketch, by the Lynn family — Brother Lynn, so to speak, and two Sisters Lynn, though the family resemblance between them all is remarkably faint. The two ladies prove to be the same who appeared in the Abusive Duet of which “Charlie” was the subject a little while back. Mr., or Brother, Lynn, is new to you. The superior shop-assistant is now “Mrs. Guzzle,” and the factory-girl is her servant, “Sloppy.” Brother Lynn is “Mr. Guzzle,” Mr. Peter Guzzle. These are the dramatis personae. When the curtain goes up Mrs. Guzzle is bewailing to Sloppy the sad fact that her Peter no longer comes home early o’ nights, and that when he does come he is invariably the worse, much the worse, for “booze.” They take counsel together as to what is to be done to win Guzzle from his evil ways, and they hit on a great idea. This is nothing less than to lie in wait for Peter this very evening as ever was, get him to bed, and then pretend when he wakes up that he is dead — as dead as a red herring, or anything else that is most emphatically dead. Peter arrives upon the scene very drunk — he explains that he has been presiding at a teetotal meeting, and that it has gone slightly to his head. He is got off to bed, but in a surprisingly short time he reappears attired in his nightshirt, which is a commodious garment, whereunto is attached an enormous frill. He announces that he is come in search of the “water-bottle,” a statement which the audience receives with a yell of derision. And now enter Sloppy, who with tears (perhaps they keep her from seeing her master) laments the death of “poo’ mahster,” but is inclined to rejoice that her missus is rid of such a scamp. “It won’t be long before she marries agin. There was that ‘andsome feller that admired her sech a lot – o’ course, they’ll make a match of it!” And so on. Guzzle listens in amazement, exclaiming that he is not dead, but Sloppy makes as if Guzzle did not exist. So much so that Mr. Guzzle begins to think there must be some truth in what she says — he is dead, and he howls out the question, “Where am I — in Heaven, or in the Other Place?” (Great laughter.)

The action is advanced another stage by the arrival of the undertaker to measure Guzzle for his coffin. The undertaker, you see without any wonder whatever, is no other than Mrs. Guzzle. Assisted by Sloppy, they lay out Mr. Guzzle on a sofa — Guzzle keeps on protesting he is
not dead, hut that makes no difference — and measure him. “He’s the sort o’ size,” says the pretty undertaker, otherwise the superior shop-assistant, otherwise Mrs. Guzzle, with husiness-like grasp of the situation and of Peter, “that we keep in stock. I’ll send the coffin round at once. He’ll look pretty well laid out.” (Peter groans.) But, hold, something has been forgotten. Peter died suddenly, it seems, and the circumstances are a little suspicious. It is necessary, therefore, that there shall be an inquest by the coroner — Peter will have to be “opened up.” (Loud and long-contiimed shrieks from Peter: “Cut up! Opened up! I won’t be cut up! I won’t be opened up! I’m not dead! O! what a bad dream! What an awful nightmare!”) Then Sloppy and the undertaker talk about the “dear departed.” Sloppy tells him that her master was a good ‘usband to missus until he took to bettin’ and drinkin’. Well, Guzzle was dead now (“I must be dead!” cries Guzzle, with sudden conviction), and missus would soon console herself — ” A ‘andsome woman like ‘er won’t have to wear the willer long.” (Peter groans dismally.) Exit undertaker, promising to send the coffin at once.

Meanwhile there is a noise outside, and Sloppy remarks that must be the coroner come to hold the inquest, and he must be sharpening up his instruments to “open up mahster.” (Peter shrieks, howls, kicks, tears his hair — the audience shouting with inextinguishable laughter the
while.) But the coroner never comes upon the stage; instead of him enter the Devil to take Peter off to the Other Place. (The Devil, you will notice, has on this occasion a trim female figure — in fact, that of Mrs. Guzzle.) The Devil is too much for Peter, and he (Peter) goes off into a fit. When he comes out of it, his wife and Sloppy are by his side. He tells them he’s had a frightful nightmare, but that, thank goodness, it was nothing else. “Do you know,” he says confidingly, “I dreamt I was dead, and that the undertaker came to measure me for my coffin, and that there was to be an inquest, and that I was to be opened up, and that the Devil — but it was all a bad dream! Well, my dear, it’s taught me a lesson. I’ll never bet or go to the Pig and Whistle again.” Brother Lynn and the two Sisters Lynn now join hands, while the crowd rocks and reels with tumultuous cheers, hand-clappings, and cat-calls. The Lynn Family, or Guzzle Family, as you like it, has scored a huge and gorgeous success!

To them succeed acrobats, who appear to think that jumping in and out of barrels, blindfolded, is quite a usual way of “getting around,” — but by this time you have seen enough. You abandon your fauteuil, get out of the smoke-laden, beer-stained atmosphere, and pass out into the street.

Comments: Robert Machray (1857-1946) and illustrator Tom Browne (1870-1910) wrote The Night Side of London, a observant and vividly illustrated account of all kinds of entertainment in Edwardian London, from which this chapter on the music hall comes. The illustrations are those that feature in the text. Machray was a journalist and a crime novelist; Browne was a prolific comic artist. The Parthenon Theatre of Varieties at Greenwich was renamed the Hippodrome and continues today as the Greenwich Theatre. The text has had one word removed which could cause offence.

Links: Copy at Hathi Trust

Ars Poetica

Source: Extract from Horace, Ars Poetica (c.19 BC), translated by Ben Jonson (posthumously published 1640) and reproduced in W. Gifford, The Works of Ben Jonson… with notes critical and explanatory, and a biographical memoir (London: G. and W. Nicol [etc.], 1816), vol. 9, pp.105-113

Text:
Hear what it is the people and I desire:
If such a one’s applause thou dost require,
That tarries till the hangings be ta’en down,
And sits till th’epilogue says Clap, or crown:
The customs of each age thou must observe,
And give their years and natures, as they swerve,
Fit rights. The child, that now knows how to say,
And can tread firm, longs with like lads to play;
Soon angry, and soon pleas’d, is sweet, or sour,
He knows not why, and changeth every hour.

Th’ unbearded youth, his guardian once being gone,
Loves dogs and horses; and is ever one
I’ the open field; is wax-like to be wrought
To every vice, as hardly to be brought
To endure counsel: a provider slow
For his own good, a careless letter-go
Of money, haughty, to desire soon mov’d,
And then as swift to leave what he hath lov’d.

These studies alter now, in one grown man;
His better’d mind seeks wealth and friendship; than
Looks after honours, and bewares to act
What straightway he must labour to retract.

The old man many evils do girt round;
Either because he seeks, and, having found,
Doth wretchedly the use of things forbear,
Or does all business coldly, and with fear;
A great deferrer, long in hope, grown numb
With sloth, yet greedy still of what’s to come:
Froward, complaining, a commender glad
Of the times past, when he was a young lad:
And still correcting youth, and censuring.
Man’s coming years much good with them do bring:
As his departing take much thence, lest then
The parts of age to youth be given, or men
To children; we must always dwell, and stay
In fitting proper adjuncts to each day.

The business either on the stage is done,
Or acted told. But ever things that run
In at the ear, do stir the mind more slow
Than those the faithful eyes take in by show,
And the beholder to himself doth render.
Yet to the stage at all thou may’st not tender
Things worthy to be done within, but take
Much from the sight, which fair report will make
Present anon: Medea must not kill
Her sons before the people, nor the ill-
Natur’d and wicked Atreus cook to th’ eye
His nephew’s entrails; nor must Progne fly
Into a swallow there; nor Cadmus take
Upon the stage the figure of a snake.
What so is shown, I not believe, and hate.

Nor must the fable, that would hope the fate
Once seen, to be again call’d for, and play’d,
Have more or less than just five acts: nor laid,
To have a god come in; except a knot
Worth his untying happen there: and not
Any fourth man, to speak at all, aspire.

An actor’s parts, and office too, the quire
Must maintain manly: nor be heard to sing
Between the acts, a quite clean other thing
Than to the purpose leads, and fitly ‘grees.
It still must favour good men, and to these
Be won a friend; it must both sway and bend
The angry, and love those that fear t’ offend.
Praise the spare diet, wholesome justice, laws,
Peace, and the open ports, that peace doth cause.
Hide faults, pray to the gods, and wish aloud
Fortune would love the poor, and leave the proud.

The hau’boy, not as now with latten bound,
And rival with the trumpet for his sound,
But soft, and simple, at few holds breath’d time
And tune too, fitted to the chorus’ rhyme,
As loud enough to fill the seats, not yet
So over-thick, but where the people met,
They might with ease be number’d, being a few
Chaste, thrifty, modest folk, that came to view.
But as they conquer’d and enlarg’d their bound,
That wider walls embrac’d their city round,
And they uncensur’d might at feasts and plays
Steep the glad genius in the wine whole days,
Both in their tunes the license greater grew,
And in their numbers; for alas, what knew
The idiot, keeping holiday, or drudge,
Clown, townsman, base and noble mixt, to judge?
Thus to his ancient art the piper lent
Gesture and Riot, whilst he swooping went
In his train’d gown about the stage: so grew
In time to tragedy, a music new.
The rash and headlong eloquence brought forth
Unwonted language: and that sense of worth
That found out profit, and foretold each thing
Now differed not from Delphic riddling.

Thespis is said to be the first found out
The Tragedy, and carried it about,
Till then unknown, in carts, wherein did ride
Those that did sing, and act: their faces dy’d
With lees of wine. Next Eschylus, more late
Brought in the visor, and the robe of state,
Built a small timber’d stage, and taught them talk
Lofty and grave, and in the buskin stalk.
He too, that did in tragic verse contend
For the vile goat, soon after forth did send
The rough rude satyrs naked, and would try,
Though sour, with safety of his gravity,
How he could jest, because he mark’d and saw
The free spectators subject to no law,
Having well eat and drunk, the rites being done,
Were to be staid with softnesses, and won
With something that was acceptably new.
Yet so the scoffing satyrs to men’s view,
And so their prating to present was best,
And so to turn all earnest into jest,
As neither any god were brought in there,
Or semi-god, that late was seen to wear
A royal crown and purple, be made hop
With poor base terms through every baser shop:
Or whilst he shuns the earth, to catch at air
And empty clouds. For tragedy is fair,
And far unworthy to blurt out light rhymes;
But as a matron drawn at solemn times
To dance, so she should shamefac’d differ far
From what th’ obscene and petulant satyrs are.
Nor I, when I write satyrs, will so love
Plain phrase, my Pisos, as alone t’ approve
Mere reigning words: nor will I labour so
Quite from all face of tragedy to go,
As not make difference, whether Davus speak,
And the bold Pythias, having cheated weak
Simo, and of a talent wip’d his purse;
Or old Silenus, Bacchus’ guard and nurse.

I can out of known geer a fable frame,
And so as every man may hope the same;
Yet he that offers at it may sweat much,
And toil in vain: the excellence is such
Of order and connexion; so much grace
There comes sometimes to things of meanest place.
But let the Fauns, drawn from their groves, beware,
Be I their judge, they do at no time dare,
Like men street-born, and near the hall rehearse
Their youthful tricks in over-wanton verse;
Or crack out bawdy speeches, and unclean.
The Roman gentry, men of birth aud mean,
Will take offence at this: nor though it strike
Him that buys chiches blanch’d, or chance to like
The nut-crackers throughout, will they therefore
Receive or give it an applause the more.

Comments: Quintus Horatius Flaccus, or Horace (65 BC – 8 BC) was a Roman poet. His Ars Poetica (The Art of Poetry), written c.19 BC, is a poem on the writing of poetry and theatre, among the most influential of all works of literary criticism. His words of advice provide useful evidence on the staging on Roman drama and its reception by audiences. The poem is written in the form of a letter to the Roman consul Lucius Calpurnius Piso and his sons. The Engish playwright and poet Ben Jonson (c.1572-1637) was a deep admirer of Horace, featuring him as a character in his play Poetaster. The earliest reference to Jondon undertaking a translation of Ars Poetica is in 1860, but it was not published until after his death, in 1640. Other translations are more accurate, but among those whose have reproduced Horace in English verse, none comes close to Jonson’s quality.

Links: Copy at Hathi Trust

The Journal of an Excursion to the United States of North America

1788 engraving of Inkle and Yarico, via British Museum,, issued under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0) licence

Source: Henry Wansey, The Journal of an Excursion to the United States of North America in the Summer of 1794 (Salisbury/London: J. Easton/ G. and T. Wilkie, 1796), pp. 42-43

Production: George Colman the Younger and Samuel Arnold, Inkle and Yarico, and David Garrick, Bon Ton, Federal Street Theatre, Boston (Massachusetts), 9 May 1794

Text: A very elegant theatre was opened at Boston about three months ago, far superior in taste, elegance and convenience, to the Bath, or any other country theatre that I have ever yet seen in England. I was there last night, with Mr. and Mrs. Vaughan. The play and farce were Inkle and Yarico, and Bon Ton; I paid a dollar for a ticket. It held about twelve hundred persons. One of the dramatis personae, was a negro, and he filled his character with great propriety. The dress of the company being perfectly English, and some of the actors, (Jones and his wife,) being those I had seen perform the last winter at Salisbury, in Shatford’s company, made me feel myself at home. Between the play and farce, the orchestra having played Ca Ira, the gallery called aloud for Yankee-doodle, which which after some short opposition was complied with. A Mr. Powell is the manager of the play-house. Mr. Goldfinch, the ingenious architect of this theatre, has also lately built an elegant crescent, called the Tontine, about fourteen or sixteen elegant houses, which let for near two hundred pounds sterling, a year.

Comments: Henry Wansey (1752?-1827) was an English antiquarian and traveller. In 1794 he visited the United States of America and two years later published an account of his travels, including meeting President George Washington. He attended the Federal Street Theatre in Boston, Massachusetts in May 1794, the theatre having opened the previous year. It was designed by Charles Bulfinch, not Goldfinch. Inkle and Yarico was a popular and widely performed comic opera about a shipwrecked Englishman and his love for an Indian native. Shatford was the English actor-manager James Shatford. Mr Jones played Trudge and Mrs Jones played Patty. The African-American actor Wansey says that he saw has not been identified, and is not mentioned in contemporary published accounts. Bon Ton was a comedy by the actor-manager David Garrick.

Links: Copy at Hathi Trust

An Evening at Collins’s

Source: James Agate, ‘An Evening at Collins’s’, in Alarums and Excursions (London: G. Richards, 1922), pp. 153-164

Text:

Vulgarity is an implicit element of the true music-hall. . . . Out of the vulgarity of the people did the music-hall arise, nor will anyone be so foolish as to contend that, by tampering with its foundations, we shall go one step towards refining the people.

Max Beerbohm.

That delicate and penetrative writer, Dixon Scott, imagines in one of his playful essays the more than cosmopolitan Mr Walkley for the nonce desorienté. The Five Towns it is which bring to a disconcerting standstill this “picked man of countries.” “Where are they?” he asks wearily and a trifle shamefacedly, after the manner of a schoolboy stumped for the whereabouts of Carthage. I, in my turn, no “student of the drama” since there is little on the English stage left to study save Mr Oscar Asche’s sham orientalism and Mr Hichens’s real camels, must confess to a singular ignorance of theatrical activity outside the quarter-mile radius. “Where is Collins’s?” and “Who is Mr George Carney?” would therefore have risen naturally to my lips, and not at all in the judicial manner, pour rire, when a youth, engaged in mending my bicycle, hopelessly confused his tale of the machine’s defects with references to a place called Collins’s, that fellow Carney, and a certain history confided by some colonel to his adjutant. Would have risen to my lips, I say – but here some explanation is necessary.

I have from youth up cherished an extreme dislike for lack of definition in the things that matter, and an equal repugnance for a pedantic accuracy in the things which do not matter at all. I abhor all those befogged conceptions and blurred declarations of faith which are the stock-in-trade of half the philosophers and three-fourths of the clergy. Tell me definitely that Space is curved and I will believe it, though truth wear a German complexion. Deny that Space is curved, and certify the same on the Royal Society’s proper form for denials, and I will consider to which camp I will belong. But let there be no “iffing and affing,” as they say in Lancashire. It annoys me that people can turn the careless side of their intelligence to such fundamental affairs as Time and Space, the nature of matter, the impasse of a self-existent or a created universe, whilst taking the most passionate interest in such trivia as dates and places, the addresses of tradespeople and the hours of trains. I do not ever hope to remember the name or number of the street in which I live, nor have I for years been able to discriminate between the keepers of my lodging- houses. All landladies are one, co-equal, co- eternal and co-incomprehensible. I hate to decide what I shall do on Saturday, to determine whether the air will be fresher at Ramsgate or Margate, Southend or Clacton-on-Sea. I am in complete ignorance of the geography of London, and invariably take what is called a hackney coach from King’s Cross to St Pancras. I have for many years left the choice of place of amusement to the discerning cabby. “Anywhere you like,” say I, “except Chu Chin Chow. Wherever one may be set down, the prime condition of life will be fulfilled — to see yet more of an amusing world and its humanity. Few people have shown a more philosophic appreciation than Bernard Clark and Ethel Monticue when they “oozed forth” into the streets. The phrase accurately describes my first attempt to find Collins’s music-hall.

I had always “placed” Collins’s as lying vaguely south of the river, somewhere between the Elephant and the Obelisk, Now the game of inattention to the trivialities of life has its rules, and one of them is that having made your intellectual bed so you must lie on it. You are to have the courage of your lack of mental industry. You have not attended to the lesson; you may not crib the answer. To dine at Princes’ and bid the commissionaire whistle an instructed taxi were outside the code. No; I had placed Collins’s near the Obelisk, and near the Obelisk I must find it, first dining befittingly and then oozing forth afoot. This may not be the place to describe a dinner “at the Obelisk.” Sufficient to say that if the cuts were not prime, the manners of my fellow-guests undoubtedly were. They did their meal the courtesy of being hungry; they ate, but not because it was the polite hour. They made no conversation, because they were not afraid of silence. My neighbour, an itinerant musician — in plain English he played a fiddle in the gutter — was, I judged, a man of uncertain character, but definite education. He forbore to relate his history. I discovered that he spoke French perfectly when, apropos of the oeillades of some poor draggle-tail at a neighbouring table, we fell to discussing the efficacy of the Duchess’s revenge in Barbey d’Aurevilly’s story — a good tale, but sadly lacking the American quality of “uplift.” I let slip, as they say, that I was bound for Collins’s, and my friend took occasion to point out that I was very much out of my course. I thanked him and listened to his indications for the following evening, it being a dispensation of the Inattentivists that you are not bound to reject information thrust upon you. We talked until the hour at which a paternal Government decrees that polite conversation in public places shall cease. And separated. But not before my fellow-artist had warmed sufficiently to me to hint that he was “doing well,” and that he hoped next year to enter his son for Eton.

Islington I found to be perfectly well informed both as to the locality of Collins’s and the reputation of Mr Carney. If not within a stone’s-throw of the Angel, the hall yet contrives to be at so nice a distance that one may transfer oneself from one house of entertainment to the other without, as old Quex has it, the trouble of drawing on one’s gloves. There is nothing of listless, well-bred indifference in a visit to Collins’s; you must be prepared to take the red plush benches by storm if you would be in at North London’s taking to heart of that rarity among comedians, an actor with a comic sense. I like to watch the curtain go up, having first enjoyed my fill of its bewitching advertisements. I like to watch the musicians file in, to see the flute-player put his instrument together, and that honest workman, the double-bass, spit on his hands, as all honest workmen should. I adore the operation of tuning-up, the precision of those little runs and trills executed in as perfect light-heartedness as the golfer’s preliminary swing. The conductor at these places is a captivating personage; he epitomises the glory of suburbia — dinner jacket, “dickey,” and white, ready-made bow. The overture at Collins’s, perfunctory, gladiatorial, had a familiar air about it, although the programme was not helpful. I should hate to think that a piece with which I am familiar can really be The Woodbine Willie Two-Step. Followed turns of which, or of whom, the chief were a juggler striking matches on his skull, a stout lady with a thin voice, prima donna of some undisclosed opera company, and a Versatile Comedy Four having to do with bicycles. At length and at last, Mr George Carney.

The first of his two “song-scenas” is a study of grandeur and decadence, of magnificence on its last legs, dandyism in the gutter, pride surviving its fall; in plain English, a tale of that wreckage of the Embankment which was once a gentleman. He wears a morning coat which, in spite of irremediable tatters, has obviously known the sunshine of Piccadilly, has yet some hang of nobility. The torn trousers still wear their plaid with an air. Enfin, the fellow was at one time gloved and booted. There is something authentic, something inherited, something ghostly about this seedy figure. Trailing clouds of glory does he haunt the Embankment. The ebony cane, the eyeglass with the watered ribbon, the grey topper of the wide and curling brim — all these fond accoutrements of fashion bring back the delightful nineties, so closely are they the presentment, the counterfeit presentment, of the swell of those days. “Bancroft to the life!” we mutter. And our mind goes back to that bygone London of violet nights and softly-jingling hansom cabs, discreet lacquer and harness of cheerful brass—nocturnes, if ever such things were, in black and gold — the London of yellow asters and green carnations; of a long-gloved diseuse, and, in the photographer’s window, a delicious Mrs Patrick Campbell eating something dreadfully expensive off the same plate as Mr George Alexander; of a hard-working Max with one volume of stern achievement and all Time before him; of a Cafe Royal where poets and not yet bookmakers forgathered; of a score of music- halls which were not for the young person. … But I am getting away from Mr Carney.

The matter is not very much above our heads — something about a Count who has “taken the count.” The purest stuff of the music-hall, as a music-hall song should be. “There’s a n’ole ‘ere!” pipes with fierce glee the cherub boot-black, bending over the broken boots and abating the deference to the broken swell no jot of his Trade Union rate of “frippence.” How it hurts, the contempt and raillery of this pitiless infant? Enfant goguenard if ever there was one, a capitalist in his small way, and with all the shopkeeper’s scorn of failure. “There’s a n’ole ere!” he insists, and we are reminded of Kipps’s tempestuous friend, “a nactor-fellow.” “Not a n’ole — an aperture, my dear fellow, an aperture,” corrects the noble client, “the boots were patent, but the patent’s expired.” Here the Count drops his cigar and indulges in unseemly scuffle with the urchin. “No, you don’t,” says the riper smoker, regaining possession, “that’s how I got it.” But the child has yet another arrow. “Landlady says as ‘ow you’ve got to share beds wiv a dustman.” But the shaft fails to wound; clearly our hero is of the Clincham mould to whom social distinctions are as “piffle before the wind.” “Want a pyper?” goads the boy, and his client lays out his last remaining copper. He unfolds the sheets and instinctively his eye runs over the fashionable intelligence. “Know Colonel Br’th’l’pp at all?” he inquires. This one recognises as the delightful touch of the man of the world anxious to put a social inferior at his ease. Something after this manner, one imagines, Royalty. “Doing very well in Russia. Was up at Cambridge with his brother, the elder Br’th’l’pp, don’ cher know.” And so to babble of the day’s gossip to the scornful child at his feet. The courtesy, I submit, of one man of polish to another.

Night falls, the river puts on its jewels, the result of a cunning arrangement of n’oles and n’apertures in the back-cloth, it draws very cold. More pitiful than the accustomed heir of destitution, but with stiff upper lip, our déclassé shivers, draws his rags more closely about him and moves on.

But it is the second song which brings down the house. Here the actor appears as an Army cook, and at Islington we have all been Army cooks in our time. A couple of dixies, the stew in which is discoverable last week’s “Dickey Dirt,” talk of “jippo ” and “the doings ” — all the familiar traffic of the camp rises to the mind’s eye and sets the house in a roar. We are not, we gather, in any theatre of war, but safely at home in halcyon, far-off training days. Almost you can hear the cheerful clatter of the canteen, the thud and rattle of the horse-lines. The wording of the song is in no sense precious.

“What was the tale the Colonel told the Adjutant
What did the Adjutant say to Major Brown?”

There is a chorus, also serving as corps de ballet, and consisting first of the inveterate grumbler who objects to the presence in his coffee of so harmless a beastie as a “drahned mahse “— the accent is a mixture of Devon and Berkshire with a dash of Cockney. Then comes the superior youth of ingratiating, behind-the-counter manner, the proud possessor, we feel sure, of a manicure set in ivory — does he not abstractedly polish his nails with the end of the towel? After him the “old sweat” who will neither die nor fade away, and lastly our rosy boot-black, now the dear brother-in-arms of the immortal Lew and Jakin. This nucleus of an Army has but a single mind: to know what has become of its blinking dinner. Many and various are their ways of putting it, and it appears that they are no more than Messengers or Forerunners of the cohorts pressing on their heels. But the orderly beguiles their impatience.

“What did the Major whisper to the Captain?
The Captain told the Subs to hand it down.”

The orderly is the slipshod, inefficient, imperturbable “bloke” we know so well; with him we are to rise to what Mr Chesterton calls “the dazzling pinnacle of the commonplace.” I am not sure that this is not the best of all this author’s fireworks; it is so stupendous a rocket that the stick has cleared the earth, never to return but to go on whirling around us for evermore. Mr Carney is the embodiment of the commonplace civilian turned warrior. He is the cook who will drop into the stew all manner of inconsidered [sic] trifles: cigarette ash, match ends, articles of personal attire. He is the hero who will be up to all the petty knavery and “lead-swinging” that may be going, who will “work dodges ” with the worst of them, and, on occasion, join with the best in such deeds — he would still call them “dodges” — as shall put terror into the hearts of a ten times outnumbering foe. Of that order of heroic cooks which held Ypres. But it is part and parcel of this actor’s generalship that he will have no truck with heroics. Tell Mr Carney that he raises tears and he will make a mock of you. Or more probably he will continue his song.

“What did the Quarter-master tell the Sergeant?
The Sergeant told the Corp’ril, it appears;
The Corp’ril told the Private and the Private told his girl,
Now she’s looking for Mademoiselle from Armenteers.”

Have I over-glorified my subject, whose talent is not more remarkably expended than on a dixie and a soldier’s ration of stew? Ah, but was not always one of the great tests for comic acting the power to throw a preternatural interest over the commonest objects of daily life? “What,” say you, pricking your ears at the familiar phrase, “surely at this time of day you are not going to dish up that old stuff about kitchen tables and constellatory importance, joint-stools and Cassiopeia’s chair?” Oh, but I am, and let appositeness be my apology. “So the gusto of Munden antiquates and ennobles what it touches. His pots and his ladles are as grand and primal as the seething-pots and hooks seen in old prophetic vision.” Why should I not elevate, an it please me, Mr Carney’s pot and ladle to the same high category? I do not ask you to see in this actor an image of primeval man lost in wonder of the sun and stars, but I do ask you to believe that a tin of “bully” contemplated by him amounts, or very nearly amounts, to a Platonic idea. Grant at least that he understands a dixie in its quiddity. It may be that in my estimate of this conscientious comedian I have overshot the just mean. Well, granting that my little appraisement is an error, it seems to me to be an error on the right side. I have a comfortable feeling that Islington at least is with me, that I have a solid popular backing. Collins’s pit and stalls, circle and gallery would have borne me out that the actor diffused a glow of sentiment “which made the pulse of a crowded theatre beat like that of one man”; would have probably agreed that he had “come in aid of the pulpit, doing good to the moral heart of a people.”

I do not think that in expanding Islington’s approval I have misread it. Its ecstatic hand-clapping and shouts of “Good ole George! Good ole George!” cannot deceive an ear attuned to shades of applause. The civilian on my left with the wound-stripes on his sleeve is dumb with appreciation. His lips are parted, his breath comes in short gasps, his eyes are fixed on the stage seeing and not seeing, his whole soul in some setting of the past. I am sure he hears once more the clatter of the canteen and the cheerful rattle of the horse-lines. The soldier on my right, still in the Army’s grip and not yet victim of the nostalgia to come — a very small fly in demobilisation’s ointment, but there it is — is drunk, simply, uncomplicatedly drunk, with the lilt and swing of the tune. He rises half out of his seat, puts a steadying hand on my arm, and with the other wildly conducts the house now singing in chorus:

“What was the tale the Colonel told the Adjutant?
What did the Adjutant say to Major Brown?
What did the Major whisper to the Captain?
The Captain told the Subs to hand it down.
What did the Quarter-master tell the Sergeant?
The Sergeant told the Corp’ril, it appears,
The Corp’ril told the Private and the Private told his girl,
Now she’s looking for Mademoiselle from Armenteers.”

There is a limit to the number of recalls even the most grateful servant of the public may permit himself, and at last Mr Carney is allowed to retire in favour of the next turn. But my friend on the right takes some little time to simmer down. “Good ole George!” he continues to mutter under his breath. “Oh, good ole George!” And as the tumblers who come next are a dull pair, I wend my way out.

Comments: James Agate (1877-1947) was a British theatre critic, essayist and diarist. George Carney (1887-1947) was a British music hall entertainer and film actor, particularly known for his portrayal of working class characters. Collins’s Music Hall was located in Islington, London, and had a history going back to 1794. It ceased operating after having been damaged by fire in 1958. Mr Walkley is the theatre critic Arthur Bingham Walkley. Bernard Clark and Ethel Monticue are characters from Daisy Ashford’s juvenile novel The Young Visiters, as is the Earl of Clincham. Bancroft refers to the Victorian actor-manager Squire Bancroft. Lew and Jakin are drummer boy characters in Rudyard Kipling’s story ‘The Drums of the Fore and Aft’.

Links: Copy at Hathi Trust

A Fortnight’s Ramble to the Lakes

Source: Joseph Budworth, A Fortnight’s Ramble to the Lakes in Westmoreland, Lancashire, and Cumberland (London: J. Nichols, 1810 [orig. pub. 1792]), pp. 210-212

Production: William Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice, Keswick, 1792

Text: In the evening we went to see the Merchant of Venice in an unroofed house. The sky was visible through niches of boards laid across the upper beams. The walls were decorated, or rather hid, with cast-off scenes, which shewed in many places a rough unplastered wall. Some of the actors performed very well, and some very middling. Their poverty shall stop the pen of criticism; and their endeavours were well expressed by their motto – “TO PLEASE.”

Between the acts a boy, seated upon an old rush chair in one corner of the stage, struck up a scrape of a fiddle. By his dress, which was once a livery, we suppose he was a servant of all work, and had belonged to the manager in better days. But I must do Shylock the justice to say, he performed well; and although no person bawled out “this is the Jew that Shakspeare drew,” when he was expressing his satisfaction at Antonio’s misfortunes, a little girl in the gallery roared, “O mammy! mammy! what a sad wicked fellar that man is!”

The house was as full as it could possibly cram, and my friend counted but thirty-six shillings’ worth of spectators in the pit, at eighteen pence a head, including a young child that squealed a second to the Crowdero of the house. Perhaps, as the actors were so near the audience, it was frightened by Shylock’s terrific look. Whilst I remained, not even the “Hush a be babby” of its mother had any effect.

I found it so extremely hot, and I felt some knees press so hard upon my back, against a piece of curtain which composed the separation of pit and gallery, that I took my departure, and enjoyed a walk to the head of Derwenter [sic] lake. The moon was in splendour, and had just escaped out of a cloud that had really a terrific look. Skiddow [sic] and the hills to the right were buried in blackness; and there was an easterly breeze which seemed to assist the moon in getting the better of her sable enemies.

Comments: Joseph Budworth (c.1756-1815) was a British soldier and writer. His A Fortnight’s Ramble to the Lakes, originally published as being by ‘A Rambler’, is an early tourist’s guide to the Lake District. his account is known in particular for the first description of the experience of climbing a mountain, and for his discovery of local beauty ‘The Maid of Buttermere’. He saw The Merchant of Venice in Keswick, by Derwentwater lake, presumably in a disused building, as there was no actual theatre in Keswick at this time.

Links: Copy at Hathi Trust

The O.P. War

George and Isaak Cruikshank, ‘Acting magistrates committing themselves being their first appearance on this stage as performed at the National Theatre Covent Garden. Sepr 18 1809’ © The Trustees of the British Museum. The Riot Act was read from the stage on 18 September, but the placards, rattles etc. did not start appearing until the following day.

Source: Thomas Tegg, The Rise, Progress, and Termination of the O.P. War, in Poetic Epistles, or Hudibrastic Letters, From Ap Simpkins in Town, to his Friend Ap Davies in Wales; including all the best songs, placards, toasts &c. &c.Which were written, exhibited, and given en the Occasion; with illustrative notes (London: Thomas Tegg, 1810), pp. 1-6

Production: William Shakespeare, Macbeth, plus The Quaker, New Covent Garden Theatre, London, 18 September 1809

Text: LETTER I

From Ap Simpkins to Ap Davies

SINCE now the O.P. battle’s o’er,
And peace the partisans restore,
To you, Ap Davies, my dear friend,
A brief account of all I’ll send,
From the beginning to the end:
But, lest your patience I should tire,
And send you more than you’d desire,
Lest I too many letters might
On this theatric contest write,
Which letters, as they’ll go by post.
Would in the end some shillings cost,
On leading points I’ll only dwell,
And all that’s entertaining tell.

Where the old playhouse lately blazed,
In Covent Garden, soon was raised
Another playhouse, as intended,
On which the managers expended
A sum indeed beyond all bounds,
It was thrice fifty thousand pounds!!!
In ten month’s time it was erected,
And from th’ exterior much expected.
But though so very grand without,
Within, ’tis very plain no doubt,
‘Twas on the eighteenth of September,
(The day I very well remember)
For which Macbeth was advertised;
A play so generally prized.
Near to the doors what numbers push’d!
As soon as opened in they rush’d.
At first the pit seem’d rather dull —
By six o’clock the house was full;
And the first lady that appear’d,
With loud huzzas by all was cheer’d.
The band struck up God save the King,
And several times the song they sing :
Then Rule Britannia next they play’d,
Which some to sing also essay’d.
The band their music might have sav’d,
While hats and handkerchiefs were wav’d.
At length the curtain up they drew,
And Kemble on the stage we view.
To give us an address he came.
To talk of “sparks from Greece” — the “flame
Of “an illumined age” — “the fire
Of Shakspeare,” which we must admire:
But so vociferously they roar’d,
I did not hear a single word.
The play began, but at this time
‘Twas like the Circus pantomime,
And gave as little satisfaction
As Elliston’s ballet of action.
When Kemble entered as Macbeth,
It was in vain he spent his breath,
For not a word could reach the ear:
E’en Mrs. Siddons I cou’dn’t hear.
With noise was Charles Kemble hail’d —
The uproar every where prevail’d.
“Off! off!” “Old prices!” were the cries;
“No Catalani!” and “No rise!”
What hissing, yelling, howling, groaning!
What barking, braying, hooting, moaning!
The people bellow’d, shouted, storm’d,
The actors in dumb show perform’d.
Those in the pit stood up with rage,
And turn’d their backs upon the stage.
Yes, my dear friend, their backs they turn’d,
And thus were the performers spurn’d.
The tragedy thus tragediz’d,
Brunton came forward, as surmis’d,
T’ announce for the next night the play;
But still they bark, and yell, and bray.
I heard him not, and all could see,
Was his lips move, then exit he.
The Quaker was the farce, they say;
I thought it was the Devil to pay
In short, it went on like the play.
I’m certain that the quaker quaked.
Each head too with the tumult ach’d.
About ELEVEN, or before,
The stage amusements all were o’er
But not until the clock struck one
Were those before the curtain done;
The cry of “Managers!” went round;
From all parts did the cry resound.
The eager, the impetuous crowd,
Then for old prices call’d aloud.
In vain they call’d — they brandish’d sticks,
The boards too trembled with their kicks;
When lo! upon the stage, indeed,
Two magistrates — yes, Nares and Read,
Made their appearance — ’tis a fact —
They came to read the Riot Act,
But all these worthies wish’d to say
Was treated like the farce and play —
“No magistrates! off! off! away!
Let Harris, if you please, appear,
Or send John Philip Kemble here.”
They thought to make the gentry quiet,
To prove that words were acts of riot:
But ‘twould not do — “Off! off! enough!”
So exeunt Ambo in a huff.
And now the galleries began:
They curs’d the building and the plan.
They thought the managers unkind —
They were in pigeon-holes confin’d.
Pat cries — ” I will be squeez’d to death;
I will be kilt for want of breath.”
Those in the upper boxes now
Assisted in the general row,
And, ‘midst their fury and their heat,
They happen’d to break down a seat.
Impossible, in such a fray,
But that some benches must give way;
At this, however, much displeased,
The Bow-street runners came and seized
Two or three gentlemen — they swore —
They dragg’d them out — their coats they tore.
These men it seems, on this condition,
Had to all parts a free admission.
‘Twas to the managers’ disgrace.
An officer, in such a place,
Should, uninvited, show his face.
But to the rest — the bell was heard,
And engines* on the stage appear’d.
This gave the folk some discontent:
They thought that Mr. Kemble meant
To play upon them. This gave rise
To further hisses, groans, and cries.
Some in the pit now form’d a ring,
They danc’d, and sung God save the King;
And while performing these wild feats,
They play’d the devil with the seats.
No matter — they evinc’d their spite,
Then bade the managers good night;
And I the same must bid my friend —
But take my word—on this depend —
My pen I will resume again, –
Till when your servant I remain.

Strand, Jan. 1810. S.

* The introduction of the water-engines on the stage was, it is asserted, through a mistake. Engines are kept in the theatre, and placed on the stage after the evening’s performances, in case of danger, particularly as the fire offices have refused to insure the house to the full amount. Mr. Kemble perceiving from his private box that the audience were not gone, ordered the bell to be rung for the stage lights to be replaced. This order was misunderstood by the prompter, and instead of the lights the engines were brought upon the stage. Certainly they might have been designedly brought on to intimidate the malcontents, but without the manager’s knowledge.

Comments: Thomas Tegg (1776–1845) was an English bookseller, publisher and author. His long poem ‘The O.P. War’ documents, through a series of ‘letters’ the turmoil that followed the decision made by Covent Garden Theatre to raise ticket prices to help cover the cost of the rebuilding of the theatre after the fire of 20 September 1808. At the re-opening of what was named New Covent Garden Theatre on 18 September 1809, and for three months thereafter, there were vehement protests inside the theatre from audience members against the price rises, dubbed the Old Price, or O.P., Riots. The actor-manager John Philip Kemble was eventually forced to lower the prices. Tegg’s poem documents the events in some detail across eighteen letters, with annotations as above. Letter I covers the day of the re-opening. The Riot Act was indeed read from the stage during the evening. The production of Macbeth included John Philip Kemble as Macbeth, his sister Sarah Siddons as Lady Macbeth and their brother Charles Kemble as Macduff, though such was the noise throughout (and for the afterpiece The Quaker) that the performances were rendered inaudible.

Links: Copy at Hathi Trust

A Persian at the Court of King George

Source: Mirza Abul Hassan Khan (ed./trans. Margaret Morris Cloake), A Persian at the Court of King George: The Journal of Mirza Abul Hassan Khan, 1809-10 (London : Barrie & Jenkins, 1988), p. 92

Production: William Shakespeare (adapted by Nahum Tate), King Lear and Harlequin Pedlar; or, The Haunted Well, Covent Garden Theatre, London, 12 January 1810

Text: Friday, 12 January [1810]

When my friends gathered at the house, Sir Gore Ouseley told me that tonight they planned to take me to a theatre called Covent Garden. Some time ago the theatre was destroyed by fire; it has been rebuilt with the help of a donation of 200,000 tomans from the King.

And so we went there. On either side of the lofty stage there are galleries with painted ceilings. Although somewhat smaller than the Opera, the decoration is more elaborate. Musicians banished sorrow from our hearts with their songs. It seemed to me strange that the audience reacted to some of the tunes with such boisterous applause that it could be heard by the Cherubim in heaven, but to others they appeared totally deaf.

The manager of the theatre, Mr Kemble, acted the part of a King of Britain Who divides his kingdom between two of his daughters, leaving the third without a share. In the end, however, the first two daughters show themselves ungrateful to their father, and the disinherited but dutiful daughter escapes from the bondage of her wicked sisters with the help of a general’s son – a marquis – who is in love with her. When she succeeds to the throne, she accepts him as her husband.

Next, several multi-coloured curtains were lowered, and from behind these curtains – in the manner of Iranian acrobats – appeared the fantastic figures of divs and peris, of birds and beasts. No one watching their antics could possibly have retained his composure. Grimaldi, a famous clown, performed an act which I shall never forget: he would leap from a high Window and just as easily leap back up again, returning each time as a different character and causing the noble audience to laugh uncontrollably.

Walking around the theatre, my companions and I saw beautiful ladies, beautifully dressed, casting flirtatious glances from their boxes. Then We left the theatre by the King’s door and came home.

Comments: Mirza Abul Hassan Khan, or Mirza Abolhassan Khan Ilchi (1776-1845) was an Iranian ambassador who headed a diplomatic mission to Great Britain in 1809-1810. The version of King Lear that he saw, with John Philip Kemble playing Lear, was the adaptation by Nahum Tate with happy ending. The concluding harlequinade was Harlequin Pedlar; or, The Haunted Well, featuring the highly popular comic performer Joseph Grimaldi.

Outline

Little Tich filmed in Paris in 1900 by Clément-Maurice, via Wikipedia

Little Tich filmed in Paris in 1900 by Clément-Maurice, via Wikipedia

Source: Paul Nash, Outline: An Autobiography (London: Columbus Books, 1988 [orig. pub. 1949]), pp. 170-172

Text: As we took our seats, the orchestra struck up one of those brisk and merry tunes which are inseparable from Tich’s public personality – a very different personality from his private character which was rather grave and inclined to studiousness. Tich, as we and the world knew him, was an expression of comic genius, and he was, without question, what is so often glibly claimed for such ‘artistes’, a true artist. He was able to be funny in so many ways – in appearance – his physical appearance in itself was a considerable creative comic gesture of chance or design. Only four feet high, a face rather like Punch’s but more intelligent, agile as a mongoose, but capable of the most absurd and alarming tumbles and gestures, and then a voice of modulations from shrill girlish piping to guttural innuendoes and sibilant ‘doubles entendres’. But his strangest most compelling asset were his feet. these I think were normal in themselves, but were habitually inserted into the most monstrous boots, long, narrow, and flat, so long that he could bow from the boots and lean over at almost an acute angle from his heels. At the same time they were so flat and pliable that Tich could flap and slap with them in a kind of tap dancing that was never known before or since. The scene tonight was a familiar one – a street with a background of houses and trees. On the right-hand wing, a corner house with an area and a grating. Tich has on his fantastic boots and his little comic hat and he waves and waggles his little swagger cane. With this equipment he can make you laugh and can fascinate you endlessly with his nimble dancing and twittering songs. Presently he will inadvertently hit his long boot with his cane and his surprise and pain will be unbearably funny. Suddenly he sees the grating. At once the gay, innocent comic becomes a mischievous little monster, all leers and terrible chuckles. Turning his back he leans over his boots – which is funny enough in itself – he peers through the grating and begins to show signs of naughty excitement, his little stick held casually behind his back somehow begins to look like a little dog’s tail which begins to wag with pleasure. The audience is not slow to get all these signs and they laugh and hoot and whistle rude whistles. Tich is delighted with his peep show and, as the band begins to play its catching tune again, he begins to sing:-

‘Curi-uri-uri-osity, curiosity,
Most of us are curious,
Some of us furious,
I do think it’s most injurious
Curious to be.
What did I get married for,
Curiosity.’

After this Tich makes some patter and when the chorus breaks out again, there is a crescendo of laughter and applause. Tich becomes tremendously animated and does a wonderful little dance, slapping his boots together in mid-air. He throws up his hat and in his ecstasy throws away his little stick. This aberration suddenly halts the whole show. The band stops: while Tich tries to move towards recovering his hat but hesitates and turns to the direction of his stick, and then changes his mind again, and so on, until he is demented with worry. However, the band creep in sotto voce and this seems to encourage him to pick up his stick firmly. But as he stoops to gather up his hat, the toe of his long boot pushes the hat ahead, sometimes it goes only just out of reach, sometimes it positively jumps like a frog, Then suddenly Tich either kicks it, or hits it in a miraculous way so that it spins into the air and he catches it on his head. This is the signal for the band to open up again. Tich resumes his dance and amid a storm of applause the turn is over.

Comments: Paul Nash (1889-1946) was a British artist, linked to the Surrealists, and serving as an official war artist in both world wars. His unfinished autobiography was published posthumously in 1949, ending just before the First World War with memories of this visit to the Oxford Music Hall in London. Harry Relph (1867-1928), known professionally as ‘Little Tich‘ was one of the great figures of the English music hall. He was four feet six inches high, and his best-known turn was the ‘big boots’ routine.

Adventures and Letters of Richard Harding Davis

Source: Charles Belmont Davis (ed.), Adventures and Letters of Richard Harding Davis (New York: Scribner’s, 1917), pp. 223-226

Production: Nellie Farren Testimonial Benefit Fund event, Drury Lane, London, 17 March 1898

Text: London, March 20, 1898

Dear Mother,

The Nellie Farren benefit was the finest thing I have seen this year past. It was more remarkable than the Coronation, or the Jubilee. It began at twelve o’clock on Thursday, but at ten o’clock Wednesday night, the crowd began to gather around Drury Lane, and spent the night on the sidewalk playing cards and reading and sleeping. Ten hours later they were admitted, or a few of them were, as many as the galleries would hold. Arthur Collins, the manager of the Drury Lane and the man who organized the benefit, could not get a stall for his mother the day before the benefit. They were then not to be had, the last having sold for twelve guineas. I got two the morning of the benefit for three pounds each, and now people believe that I did get into the Coronation! The people who had stalls got there at ten o’clock, and the streets were blocked for “blocks” up to Covent Garden with hansoms and royal carriages and holders of tickets at fifty dollars apiece. It lasted six hours and brought in thirty thousand dollars. Kate Vaughan came back and danced after an absence from the stage of twelve years. Irving recited The Dream of Eugene Aram, Terry played Ophelia, Chevalier sang Mrs. Hawkins, Dan Leno gave Hamlet, Marie Tempest sang The Jewel of Asia and Hayden Coffin sang Tommy Atkins, the audience of three thousand people joining in the chorus, and for an encore singing “Oh, Nellie, Nellie Farren, may your love be ever faithful, may your pals be ever true, so God bless you Nellie Farren, here’s the best of luck to you.” In Trial by Jury, Gilbert played an associate judge; the barristers were all playwrights, the jury the principal comedians, the chorus girls were real chorus girls from the Gaiety mixed in with leading ladies like Miss Jeffries and Miss Hanbury, who could not keep in step. But the best part of it was the pantomime. Ellaline came up a trap with a diamond dress and her hair down her back and electric lights all over her, and said, “I am the Fairy Queen,” and waved her wand, at which the “First Boy” in the pantomime said, “Go long, now, do, we know your tricks, you’re Ellaline Terriss”; and the clown said, “You’re wrong, she’s not, she’s Mrs. Seymour Hicks.” Then Letty Lind came on as Columbine in black tulle, and Arthur Roberts as the policeman, and Eddy Payne as the clown and Storey as Pantaloon.

The rest of it brought on everybody. Sam Sothern played a “swell” and stole a fish. Louis Freear, a housemaid, and all the leading men appeared as policemen. No one had more than a line to speak which just gave the audience time to recognize him or her. The composers and orchestra leaders came on as a German band, each playing an instrument, and they got half through the Washington Post before the policemen beat them off. Then Marie Lloyd and all the Music Hall stars appeared as street girls and danced to the music of a hand-organ. Hayden Coffin, Plunkett
Greene and Ben Davies sang as street musicians and the clown beat them with stuffed bricks. After that there was a revue of all the burlesques and comic operas, then the curtain was raised from the middle of the stage, and Nellie Farren was discovered seated at a table on a high stage with all the “legitimates” in frock-coats and walking dresses rising on benches around her.

The set was a beautiful wood scene well lighted. Wyndham stood on one side of her, and he said the yell that went up when the curtain rose was worse than the rebel yell he had heard in battles. In front of her, below the stage, were all the people who had taken part in the revue, forming a most interesting picture. There was no one in the group who had not been known for a year by posters or photographs: Letty Lind as the Geisha, Arthur Roberts as Dandy Dan. The French Girl and all the officers from The Geisha, the ballet girls from the pantomime, the bare-back-riders from The Circus Girl; the Empire costumes and the monks from La Poupee, and all the Chinese and Japanese costumes from The Geisha. Everybody on the stage cried and all the old rounders in the boxes cried.

It was really a wonderfully dramatic spectacle to see the clown and officers and Geisha girls weeping down their grease paint. Nellie Farren’s great song was one about a street Arab with the words: “Let me hold your nag, sir, carry your little bag, sir, anything you please to give – thank’ee, sir!” She used to close her hand, then open it and look at the palm, then touch her cap with a very wonderful smile, and laugh when she said, “Thank’ee, sir!” This song was reproduced for weeks before the benefit, and played all over London, and when the curtain rose on her, the orchestra struck into it and the people shouted as though it was the national anthem. Wyndham made a very good address and so did Terry, then Wyndham said he would try to get her to speak. She has lost the use of her hands and legs and can only walk with crutches, so he put his arm around her and her son lifted her from the other side and then brought her to her feet, both crying like children. You could hear the people sobbing, it was so still. She said, “Ladies and Gentleman,” looking at the stalls and boxes, then she turned her head to the people on the stage below her and said, “Brothers and Sisters,” then she stood looking for a long time at the gallery gods who had been waiting there twenty hours. You could hear a long “Ah” from the gallery when she looked up there, and then a “hush” from all over it and there was absolute silence. Then she smiled and raised her finger to her bonnet and said, “Thank’ee, sir,” and sank back in her chair. It was the most dramatic thing I ever saw on a stage. The orchestra struck up “Auld Lang Syne” and they gave three cheers on the stage and in the house. The papers got out special editions, and said it was the greatest theatrical event there had ever been in London.

Comments: Richard Harding Davis (1864-1916) was a celebrated American journalist and novelist, known for his war reporting and sharp eye for a sensational subject. Ellen ‘Nellie’ Farren (1848-1904) was a British actor and singer, renowned for her principal boy performances in Gaiety Theatre productions, which attracted a huge, chiefly male, following. She was forced to retire through ill health in 1892. On 17 March 1898 a performance in aid of the Nellie Farren Testimonial Benefit Fund at Drury Lane drew an unprecedented cast of late Victorian stage greats, and raised an estimated £7,000. The show included a production of Gilbert and Sullivan‘s one act comic opera Trial by Jury, with Gilbert himself playing the Associate. Other accounts of the event state that Dan Leno appeared in a scene from the Drury Lane pantomime with Herbert Campbell, and not a scene from Hamlet.

Links: Copy at Hathi Trust

London Particulars

Source: C.H. Rolph, London Particulars (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1980), pp. 113-116

Text: [I]t was Jim who introduced me to the music hall, a process which involved deception at home. I forget what the pretence or deception had to be, but my mother in particular would never have allowed me to go into a music hall. I had never been inside a theatre, not even to a pantomime. I had wondered why we were taught at school to revere the plays of Shakespeare but were not allowed to see them performed in the places built for them. I pondered about the play-titles on the hoardings and on the sides of buses. Martin-Harvey in The Only Way, Are you a Mason?, The Blue Bird; there must have been something sinister or indecent about these. A young woman who lived across the road had given a song and dance at a Scouts’ concert (we were not there) and a neighbour had told my mother in a low voice that she had ‘tights right up to her thighs’. Harold and I thought they wouldn’t have been very interesting any lower down, but we had come to understand how it was that there were Two Worlds, to be acknowledged and talked about only on rigidly separate occasions and in separately recruited company.

I simply could not understand what could be evil about a hall with music in it. I did understand that the music halls had bars where you could drink during the intervals or (if you preferred it) throughout the evening; and my mother had sad memories of what drunkenness had meant to some of her childhood friends. It was her belief, and Grandma Speed’s, that the theatre and the music hall were mere devices for encouraging people to drink. Charlie Chaplin records in his autobiography that every music-hall entertainer, after his act, was expected to go to the bar and drink with the customers – and would get no further engagements if he didn’t. Many of the Fulham pubs advertised ‘musical evenings’, and those with gardens made a special feature of open-air concerts in summer. My mother thought this was where a great number of young people began a lifetime, usually a short one, of drunkenness. And she was probably right.

But the music hall, having begun as a sing-song in a pub, had already become the Palace of Varieties, and its progress from drunken knees-up to theatrical respectability was nearly complete. Charles Booth had written as early as 1889 in his Life and Labour of the People in London that ‘the story of progress in this respect may be traced in many of the existing places which, from a bar parlour and a piano, to an accompaniment on which friends “obliged with a song”, have passed through every stage to that of music hall; the presiding chairman being still occasionally, and the call for drinks in almost every case, retained. But the character of the songs on the whole is better, and other things are offered: it becomes a “variety” entertainment.’ In 1912 King George V decreed (or perhaps merely acquiesced in) the first of all the Royal Command Performances. But if this was intended as the music hall’s final accolade of respectability it was not so regarded in our house, and indeed it may well have been that the reputation of royal households was such that even a King of England couldn’t decree anything into respectability.

By 1911 the ‘presiding chairman’ was a thing of the past; and for my part, far from being seduced into drunkenness, I never even saw the bar. (Jim was a non-drinker.) I think the biggest surprise of my first music-hall visit – at the Hammersmith Palace of Varieties – was the orchestra. I was accustomed by this time to the sound of a band or orchestra tuning up, and to me it has always been a strangely pleasant and exciting cacophony, full of mouth-watering promise and chaotic splendour. The orchestra at the Hammersmith Palace spent less time over this than I had expected, but it was still effective enough as a musical aphrodisiac. And then it played! Its speed was ludicrous, maniacal, contemptuous. The raucous ‘Overture’ lasted about thirty deafening seconds and ended with an irrelevant crash of cymbals. I was extremely disappointed and scornful, but I was to discover that all music-hall orchestras did it; and that, indeed, these places were not halls of music but theatres where entertainers told funny stories, enacted funny sketches, abused each other, conjured, juggled, contorted themselves, sang and danced, performed highly dangerous acrobatics and – very occasionally – played popular classics on piano, violin, trumpet, or mouth-organ. I thought they were all utterly enchanting.

Fred Karno was then at the height of his fame as producer of the ‘Birds’ series of comedy sketches – Early Birds, Jail Birds, Mumming Birds, and others; and on these he constructed a huge theatrical empire of over thirty companies, fostering such outstanding performers as Charlie Chaplin, George Graves, Harry Weldon, and Billie Reeves. On that first evening at the Hammersmith Palace we saw Bransby Williams in a series of the impersonations for which he was renowned – Uriah Heep, Micawber, and the Abbé Liszt. In the last-named, for some reason, he staggered about the stage playing a concertina, and someone in the gallery threw a coin on to the stage. A dropped coin in those days made a bright and unmistakable ringing sound. Bransby Williams stopped playing. ‘That’, he shouted, ‘is an insult, and I’m not accustomed to insults.’ I was petrified. He strode off the stage to cries of ‘Come back Bransby’, ‘Come on mate, get on with it’, ‘Good old Bransby’, etc. And after a while, encouraged no doubt from off-stage, he graciously came back to complete his act.

On other Saturday evenings in those exciting years I was taken to the Granville at Walham Green, the Putney Hippodrome and Shepherds Bush Empire, seeing the same variety artistes (as they liked to be called) time after time: Ernie Mayne, Sam Mayo, T.E. Dunville, Ernie Lotinga, and a host of less famous names. I have before me a Granville Theatre of Varieties programme for 18 August 1911, in which Fred Karno presented ‘Mumming Birds’, with a caste including the now forgotten names of Fred Arthur, Wheeler and Wilson, The Martins, Terry and Birtley, Arthur Clifton, Madoline Rees (most of whom I saw on other occasions) and ‘The Cinematograph Showing New Pictures’. Seats in the Orchestra Stalls cost one shilling, Pit Stalls ninepence, Circle Sixpence, Gallery threepence. ‘Mumming Birds’ was the mildly bawdy sketch in which, three years earlier, Charlie Chaplin had played, at the age of eighteen, the part of a comedy drunk in a highly individual way that ensured his future and his fortune. But I never saw Charlie Chaplin on the stage.

I remember being astonished at the coarseness and the sexual innuendos of T.E. Dunville and Sam Mayo; I could outdo them both (I believed) in suitable company, but it was probably because of them and their imitators that, while I was uncomfortable when female artistes were on the stage (I suppose I didn’t like to think they had to associate with the Dunvilles and the Mayos), I positively hated the females who impersonated males, the Vesta Tilleys and the Hetty Kings. I was unable to see why all comedians couldn’t be as unembarrassing as Billy Merson. I never saw pantomimes until I took my own children to them, and even then they were spoiled for me by the transvestite principal boy and pantomime dames, theatrical eccentricities I have simply never understood. To this day Danny La Rue, gifted as I’m sure he must be, makes my flesh crawl. George Robey was reputed to be the supreme pantomime dame, but his double handicap was that I regarded him anyway as a self-satisfied bore. And although I saw Harry Lauder only once, I thought him a bore too: his success and réclame have always mystified me.

Comments: C.R. Rolph (real name Cecil Rolph Hewitt) (1901-1994) was the son of a policeman. His family lived in Southwark, then Finsbury Park, then Fulham. He became a Chief Inspector in the City of London Police, Vice-President of the Howard League for Penal Reform and served on the editorial staff of the New Statesman. London Particulars is the first of two classic volumes of autobiography.