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ejectment from the ring, the orange-peel cleared away, and
the sawdust shaken, with mathematical precision, into a com-
plete circle, we feel as much enlivened as the youngest child
present; and actually join in the laugh which follows the
clown's shrill shout of " Here we are ! " just for old acquaint-
ance' sake. Nor can we quite divest ourself of our old feeling
of reverence for the riding-master, who follows the clown
with a long whip in his hand, and bows to the audience with
graceful dignity. He is none of your second-rate riding-
masters in nankeen dressing-gowns, with brown frogs, but the


regular gentleman-attendant on the principal riders, who
always wears a military uniform with a table-cloth inside
the breast of the coat, in which costume he forcibly reminds
one of a fowl trussed for roasting. He is but why should
we attempt to describe that of which no description can
convey an adequate idea? Everybody knows the man,
and everybody remembers his polished boots, his graceful
demeanour, stiff, as some misjudging persons have in their
jealousy considered it, and the splendid head of black hair,
parted high on the forehead, to impart to the countenance an
appearance of deep thought and poetic melancholy. His soft
and pleasing voice, too, is in perfect unison with his noble
bearing, as he humours the clown by indulging in a little
badinage; and the striking recollection of his own dignity,
with which he exclaims, " Now, sir, if you please, inquire for
Miss Woolford, sir,"" can never be forgotten. The graceful
air, too, with which he introduces Miss Woolford into the
arena, and, after assisting her to the saddle, follows her fairy
courser round the circle, can never fail to create a deep im-
pression in the bosom of every female servant present.

When Mrs. Woolford, and the horse, and the orchestra, all
stop together to take breath, he urbanely takes part in some
such dialogue as the following (commenced by the clown) :
"I say, sir!" "Well, sir?" (it's always conducted in the
politest manner.) "Did you ever happen to hear I was in
the army, sir ? " " No, sir." " Oh, yes, sir I can go through
my exercise, sir." "Indeed, sir!" "Shall I do it now, sir?"
"If you please, sir; come, sir make haste" (a cut with
the long whip, and " Ha 1 done now I don't like it," from
the clown). Here the clown throws himself on the ground,
and goes through a variety of gymnastic convulsions, doubling
himself up, and untying himself again, and making himself
look very like a man in the most hopeless extreme of human
agony, to the vociferous delight of the gallery, until he is
interrupted by a second cut from the long whip, and a request
to see " what Miss Woolford's stopping for ? " On which, to


the inexpressible mirth of the gallery, he exclaims, "Now,
Miss Woolford, what can I come for to go, for to fetch, for
to bring, for to cany, for to do, for you, ma'am ? " On the
lady's announcing with a sweet smile that she wants the two
flags, they are, with sundry grimaces, procured and handed
up; the clown facetiously observing after the performance of
the latter ceremony" He, he, oh ! I say, sir, Miss Woolford
knows me ; she smiled at me." Another cut from the whip,
a burst from the orchestra, a start from the horse, and round
goes Miss Woolford again on her graceful performance, to the
delight of every member of the audience, young or old. The
next pause affords an opportunity for similar witticisms, the
only additional fun being that of the clown making ludicrous
grimaces at the riding-master every time his back is turned ;
and finally quitting the circle by jumping over his head,
having previously directed his attention another way.

Did any of our readers ever notice the class of people, who
hang about the stage-doors of our minor theatres in the day-
time? You will rarely pass one of these entrances without
seeing a group of three or four men conversing on the pave-
ment, with an indescribable public-house-parlour swagger, and
a kind of conscious air, peculiar to people of this description.
They always seem to think they are exhibiting ; the lamps are
ever before them. That young fellow in the faded brown
coat, and very full light green trousers, pulls down the wrist-
bands of his check shirt, as ostentatiously as if it were of the
finest linen, and cocks the white hat of the summer-before-
last as knowingly over his right eye, as if it were a purchase
of yesterday. Look at the dirty white Berlin gloves, and
the cheap silk handkerchief stuck in the bosom of his thread-
bare coat. Is it possible to see him for an instant, and not
come to the conclusion that he is the walking gentleman who
wears a blue surtout, clean collar, and white trousers, for half
an hour, and then shrinks into his worn-out scanty clothes :
\vho has to boast night after night of his splendid fortune,
with the painful consciousness of a pound a-week and his


boots to find ; to talk of his father's mansion in the country,
with a dreary recollection of his own two-pair back, in the
New Cut ; and to be envied and flattered as the favoured lover
of a rich heiress, remembering all the while that the ex-dancer
at home is in the family way, and out of an engagement ?

Next to him, perhaps, you will see a thin pale man, with
a very long face, in a suit of shining black, thoughtfully
knocking that part of his boot which once had a heel, with
an ash stick. He is the man who does the heavy business,
such as prosy fathers, virtuous servants, curates, landlords,
and so forth.

By the way, talking of fathers, we should very much like
to see some piece in which all the dramatis personse were
orphans. Fathers are invariably great nuisances on the stage,
and always have to give the hero or heroine a long explanation
of what was done before the curtain rose, usually commencing
with "It is now nineteen years, my dear child, since your
blessed mother (here the old villain's voice falters) confided
you to my charge. You were then an infant," &c., &c. Or
else they have to discover, all of a sudden, that somebody
whom they have been in constant communication with, during
three long acts, without the slightest suspicion, is their own
child : in which case they exclaim, " Ah ! what do I see ?
This bracelet ! That smile ! These documents ! Those eyes !
Can I believe my senses ? It must be ! Yes it is, it is my
child!" "My father!" exclaims the child; and they fall
into each other's arms, and look over each other's shoulders,
and the audience give three rounds of applause.

To return from this digression, we were about to say, that
these are the sort of people whom you see talking, and atti-
tudinising, outside the stage-doors of our minor theatres.
At Astley's they are always more numerous than at any
other place. There is generally a groom or two, sitting on
the window-sill, and two or three dirty shabby-genteel men
in checked neckerchiefs, and sallow linen, lounging about, and
carrying, perhaps, under one arm, a pair of stage shoes badly


wrapped up in a piece of old newspaper. Some years ago we
used to stand looking, open-mouthed, at these men, with a
feeling of mysterious curiosity, the very recollection of which
provokes a smile at the moment we are writing. We could
not believe that the beings of light and elegance, in milk-
white tunics, salmon-coloured legs, and blue scarfs, who flitted
on sleek cream-coloured horses before our eyes at night, with
all the aid of lights, music, and artificial flowers, could be
the pale, dissipated-looking creatures we beheld by day.

We can hardly believe it now. Of the lower class of actors
we have seen something, and it requires no great exercise of
imagination to identify the walking gentleman with the
"dirty swell," the comic singer with the public-house chair-
man, or the leading tragedian with drunkenness and distress ;
but these other men are mysterious beings, never seen out of
the ring, never beheld but in the costume of gods and sylphs.
With the exception of Ducrow, who can scarcely be classed
among them, who ever knew a rider at Astley's, or saw him
but on horseback ? Can our friend in the military uniform,
ever appear in theadbare attire, or descend to the compara-
tively un-wadded costume of every-day life ? Impossible !
We cannot we will not believe it.



IF the Parks be " the lungs of London," we wonder what
Greenwich Fair is a periodical breaking out, we suppose, a
sort of spring-rash : a three days' fever, which cools the blood
for six months afterwards, and at the expiration of which
London is restored to its old habits of plodding industry, as
suddenly and completely as if nothing had ever happened to
disturb them.

In our earlier days, we were a constant frequenter of
Greenwich Fair, for years. We have proceeded to, and returned
from it, in almost every description of vehicle. We cannot
conscientiously deny the charge of having once made the
passage in a spring- van, accompanied by thirteen gentlemen,
fourteen ladies, an unlimited number of children, and a barrel
of beer ; and we have a vague recollection of having, in later
days, found ourself the eighth outside, on the top of a hackney-
coach, at something past four o'clock in the morning, with a
rather confused idea of our own name, or place of residence.
We have grown older since then, and quiet, and steady :
liking nothing better than to spend our Easter, and all our
other holidays, in some quiet nook, with people of whom we
shall never tire ; but we think we still remember something of
Greenwich Fair, and of those who resort to it. At all events
we will try.

The road to Greenwich during the whole of Easter Monday,


is in a state of perpetual bustle and noise. Cabs, hackney-
coaches, "shay" carts, coal-waggons, stages, omnibuses,
sociables, gigs, donkey-chaisesall crammed with people (for
the question never is, what the horse can draw, but what the
vehicle will hold), roll along at their utmost speed ; the dust
flies in clouds, ginger-beer corks go off in volleys, the balcony
of every public-house is crowded with people, smoking and
drinking, half the private houses are turned into tea-shops,
fiddles are in great request, every little fruit-shop displays its
stall of gilt gingerbread and penny toys; turnpike men are
in despair; horses won't go on, and wheels will come off';
ladies in "carawans" scream with fright at every fresh con-
cussion, and their admirers find it necessary to sit remarkably
close to them, by way of encouragement; servants-of-all-
work, who are not allowed to have followers, and have got
a holiday for the day, make the most of their time with
the faithful admirer who waits for a stolen interview at the
corner of the street every night, when they go to fetch the
beer apprentices grow sentimental, and straw-bonnet makers
kind. Everybody is anxious to get on, and actuated by the
common wish to be at the fair, or in the park, as soon as

Pedestrians linger in groups at the roadside, unable to resist
the allurements of the stout proprietress of the " Jack-in-the-
box, three shies a penny," or the more splendid offers of the
man with three thimbles and a pea on a little round board,
who astonishes the bewildered crowd with some such address
as, "Here's the sort o' game to make you laugh seven years
arter you're dead, and turn ev'ry air on your ed gray vith
delight! Three thimbles and vun little pea with a vun,
two, three, and a two, three, vun : catch him who can, look
on, keep your eyes open, and niver say die ! niver mind the
change, and the expense : all fair and above board : them as
don't play can't vin, and luck attend the ryal sportsman!
Bet any gen'lm'n any sum of money, from harf-a-crown tip
to a suverin, as he doesn't name the thimble as kivers the



pea ! " Here some greenhorn whispers his friend that he
distinctly saw the pea roll under the middle thimble an
impression which is immediately confirmed by a gentleman in
top-boots, who is standing by, and who, in a low tone, regrets
his own inability to bet, in consequence of having unfortu-
nately left his purse at home, but strongly urges the stranger
not to neglect such a golden opportunity. The "plant" is
successful, the bet is made, the stranger of course loses : and
the gentleman with the thimbles consoles him, as he pockets
the money, with an assurance that it's " all the fortin of war !
this time I vin, next time you vin : niver mind the loss of
two bob and a bender ! Do it up in a small parcel, and
break out in a fresh place. Here's the sort o' game," &c.
and the eloquent harangue, with such variations as the
speaker's exuberant fancy suggests, is again repeated to the
gaping crowd, reinforced by the accession of several new-

The chief place of resort in the daytime, after the public-
houses, is the park, in which the principal amusement is to
drag young ladies up the steep hill which leads to the Obser-
vatory, and then drag them down again, at the very top of
their speed, greatly to the derangement of their curls and
bonnet-caps, and much to the edification of lookers-on from
below. "Kiss in the Ring," and "Threading my Grand-
mother's Needle," too, are sports which receive their full share
of patronage. Love-sick swains, under the influence of gin-
and- water, and the tender passion, become violently affec-
tionate: and the -fair objects of their regard enhance the
value of stolen kisses, by a vast deal of struggling, and
holding down of heads, and cries of " Oh ! Ha' done, then,
George Oh, do tickle him for me, Mary Well, I never!"
and similar Lucretian ejaculations. Little old men and women,
with a small basket under one arm, and a wine-glass, without
a foot, in the other hand, tender "a drop o' the right sort"
to the different groups ; and young ladies, who are persuaded
to indulge in a drop of the aforesaid right sort, display a


pleasing degree of reluctance to taste it, and cough afterwards
with great propriety.

The old pensioners, who, for the moderate charge of a
penny, exhibit the mast-house, the Thames and shipping,
the place where the men used to hang in chains, and other
interesting sights, through a telescope, are asked questions
about objects within the range of the glass, which it would
puzzle a Solomon to answer ; and requested to find out
particular houses in particular streets, which it would have
been a task of some difficulty for Mr. Horner (not the young
gentleman who ate mince-pies with his thumb, but the man
of Colosseum notoriety) to discover. Here and there, where
some three or four couple are sitting on the grass together,
you will see a sun-burnt woman in a red cloak "telling
fortunes'" and prophesying husbands, which it requires no
extraordinary observation to describe, for the originals are
before her. Thereupon, the lady concerned laughs and blushes,
and ultimately buries her face in an imitation cambric hand-
kerchief, and the gentleman described looks extremely foolish,
and squeezes her hand, and fees the gipsy liberally ; and the
gipsy goes away, perfectly satisfied herself, and leaving those
behind her perfectly satisfied also : and the prophecy, like
many other prophecies of greater importance, fulfils itself in

But it grows dark : the crowd has gradually dispersed, and
only a few stragglers are left behind. The light in the
direction of the church shows that the fair is illuminated;
and the distant noise proves it to be filling fast. The spot,
which half an hour ago was ringing with the shouts of
boisterous mirth, is as calm and quiet as if nothing could
ever disturb its serenity; the fine old trees, the majestic
building at their feet, with the noble river beyond, glistening
in the moonlight, appear in all their beauty, and under their
most favourable aspect ; the voices of the boys, singing their
evening hymn, are borne gently on the air ; and the humblest
mechanic who has been lingering on the grass so pleasant to


the feet that beat the same dull round from week to week
in the paved streets of London, feels proud to think as he
surveys the scene before him, that he belongs to the country
which has selected such a spot as a retreat for its oldest
and best defenders in the decline of their lives.

Five minutes 1 walking brings you to the fair; a scene
calculated to awaken very different feelings. The entrance is
occupied on either side by the vendors of gingerbread and
toys : the stalls are gaily lighted up, the most attractive
goods profusely disposed, and unbonneted young ladies, in
their zeal for the interest of their employers, seize you by the
coat, and use all the blandishments of "Do, dear"" "There's
a love" "Don't be cross, now," &c., to induce you to
purchase half a pound of the real spice nuts, of which the
majority of the regular fair-goers carry a pound or two as
a present supply, tied up in a cotton pocket-handkerchief.
Occasionally you pass a deal table, on which are exposed
pen'orths of pickled salmon (fennel included), in little white
saucers : oysters, with shells as large as cheese-plates, and
divers specimens of a species of snail (wilks, we think they are
called), floating in a somewhat bilious-looking green liquid.
Cigars, too, are in great demand ; gentlemen must smoke, of
course, and here they are, two a penny, in a regular authentic
cigar-box, with a lighted tallow candle in the centre.

Imagine yourself in an extremely dense crowd, which swings
you to and fro, and in and out, and every way but the right
one ; add to this the screams of women, the shouts of boys,
the clanging of gongs, the firing of pistols, the ringing of
bells, the bellowings of speaking-trumpets, the squeaking of
penny dittoes, the noise of a dozen bands, with three drums
in each, all playing different tunes at the same time, the
hallooing of showmen, and an occasional roar from the wild-
beast shows ; and you are in the very centre and heart of
the fair.

This immense booth, with the large stage in front, so
brightly illuminated with variegated lamps, and pots of


burning fat, is " Richardson's," where you have a melo-drama
(with three murders and a ghost), a pantomime, a comic song,
an overture, and some incidental music, all done in five-and-
twenty minutes.

The company are now promenading outside in all the
dignity of wigs, spangles, red-ochre, and whitening. See with
what a ferocious air the gentleman who personates the Mexican
chief, paces up and down, and with what an eye of calm
dignity the principal tragedian gazes on the crowd below, or
converses confidentially with the harlequin ! The four clowns,
who are engaged in a mock broadsword combat, may be all
very well for the low-minded holiday-makers ; but these are
the people for the reflective portion of the community. They
look so noble in those Roman dresses, with their yellow legs
and arms, long black curly heads, bushy eyebrows, and scowl
expressive of assassination, and vengeance, and everything else
that is grand and solemn. Then, the ladies were there ever
such innocent and awful-looking beings ; as they walk up and
down the platform in twos and threes, with their arms round
each other's waists, or leaning for support on one of those
majestic men! Their spangled muslin dresses and blue satin
shoes and sandals (a leetle the worse for wear) are the admira-
tion of all beholders ; and the playful manner in which they
check the advances of the clown, is perfectly enchanting.

" Just a-going to begin ! Pray come forerd, come for'erd,"
exclaims the man in the countryman's dress, for the seventieth
time : and people force their way up the steps in crowds.
The band suddenly strikes up, the harlequin and columbine
set the example, reels are formed in less than no time, the
Roman heroes place their arms a-kimbo, and dance with
considerable agility; and the leading tragic actress, and the
gentleman who enacts the " swell " in the pantomime, foot it
to perfection. "All in to begin," shouts the manager, when
no more people can be induced to " come for'erd," and away
rush the leading members of tlie company to do the dreadful
in the first piece.


A change of performance takes place every day during the
fair, but the story of the tragedy is always pretty much the
same. There is a rightful heir, who loves a young lady, and
is beloved by her; and a wrongful heir, who loves her too,
and isn't beloved by her ; and the wrongful heir gets hold of
the rightful heir, and throws him into a dungeon, just to kill
him oft' when convenient, for which purpose he hires a couple
of assassins a good one and a bad one who, the moment
they are left alone, get up a little murder on their own
account, the good one killing the bad one, and the bad one
wounding the good one. Then the rightful heir is discovered
in prison, carefully holding a long chain in his hands, and
seated despondingly in a large arm-chair; and the young
lady comes in to two bars of soft music, and embraces the
rightful heir; and then the wrongful heir comes in to two
bars of quick music (technically called "a hurry"), and goes
on in the most shocking manner, throwing the young lady
about as if she was nobody, and calling the rightful heir " Ar-
recreant ar-wretch ! " in a very loud voice, which answers
the double purpose of displaying his passion, and preventing
the sound being deadened by the sawdust. The interest
becomes intense ; the wrongful heir draws his sword, and
rushes on the rightful heir; a blue smoke is seen, a gong is
heard, and a tall white figure (who has been all this time,
behind the arm-chair, covered over with a table-cloth), slowly
rises to the tune of " Oft in the stilly night." This is no
other than the ghost of the rightful heir's father, who was
killed by the wrongful heir's father, at sight of which the
wrongful heir becomes apoplectic, and is literally "struck all
of a heap," the stage not being large enough to admit of
his falling down at full length. Then the good assassin
staggers in, and says he was hired in conjunction with the
bad assassin, by the wrongful heir, to kill the rightful heir;
and he's killed a good many people in his time, but he's
very sorry for it, and won't do so any more a promise
which he immediately redeems, by dying off hand without


any nonsense about it. Then the rightful heir throws down
his chain ; and then two men, a sailor, and a young woman
(the tenantry of the rightful heir) come in, and the ghost
makes dumb motions to them, which they, by supernatural
interference, understand for no one else can; and the ghost
(who can't do anything without blue fire) blesses the rightful
heir and the young lady, by half suffocating them with
smoke : and then a muffin-bell rings, and the curtain drops.

The exhibitions next in popularity to these itinerant
theatres are the travelling menageries, or, to speak more
intelligibly, the "Wild-beast shows," where a military band
in beef-eater's costume, with leopard-skin caps, play inces-
santly; and where large highly-coloured representations of
tigers tearing men's heads open, and a lion being burnt with
red-hot irons to induce him to drop his victim, are hung up
outside, by way of attracting visitors.

The principal officer at these places is generally a very tall,
hoarse man, in a scarlet coat, with a cane in his hand, with
which he occasionally raps the pictures we have just noticed,
by way of illustrating his description something in this
way. " Here, here, here ; the lion, the lion (tap), exactly as
he is represented on the canvas outside (three taps) : no
waiting, remember ; no deception. The fe-ro-cious lion (tap,
tap) who bit off the gentleman's head last Cambervel vos a
twelvemonth, and has killed on the awerage three keepers
a-year ever since he arrived at matoority. No extra charge
on this account recollect ; the price of admission is only six-
pence." This address never fails to produce a considerable
sensation, and sixpences flow into the treasury with wonder-
ful rapidity.

The dwarfs are also objects of great curiosity, and as a
dwarf, a giantess, a living skeleton, a wild Indian, "a young
lady of singular beauty, with perfectly white hair and pink
eyes," and two or three other natural curiosities, are usually
exhibited together for the small charge of a penny, they

Online LibraryCharles DickensThe works of Charles Dickens (Volume 26) → online text (page 11 of 31)