Charles Dickens.

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attract very numerous audiences. The best thing about a


dwarf is, that he has always a little box, about two feet six
inches high, into which, by long practice, he can just manage
to get, by doubling himself up like a boot-jack ; this box is
painted outside like a six-roomed house, and as the crowd
see him ring a bell, or fire a pistol out of the first-floor
window, they verily believe that it is his ordinary town
residence, divided like other mansions into drawing-rooms,
dining-parlour, and bedchambers. Shut up in this case, the
unfortunate little object is brought out to delight the throng
by holding a facetious dialogue with the proprietor : in the
course of which, the dwarf (who is always particularly drunk)
pledges himself to sing a comic song inside, and pays various
compliments to the ladies, which induce them to " come
forerd" with great alacrity. As a giant is not so easily
moved, a pair of indescribables of most capacious dimensions,
and a huge shoe, are usually brought out, into which two or
three stout men get all at once, to the enthusiastic delight
of the crowd, who are quite satisfied with the solemn assur-
ance that these habiliments form part of the giant's everyday

The grandest and most numerously-frequented booth in
the whole fair, however, is "The Crown and Anchor" a
temporary ball-room we forget how many hundred feet long,
the price of admission to which is one shilling. Immediately
on your right hand as you enter, after paying your money, is
a refreshment place, at which cold beef, roast and boiled,
French rolls, stout, wine, tongue, ham, even fowls, if we
recollect right, are displayed in tempting array. There is a
raised orchestra, and the place is boarded all the way down,
in patches, just wide enough for a country dance.

There is no master of the ceremonies in this artificial Eden
all is primitive, unreserved, and unstudied. The dust is
blinding, the heat insupportable, the company somewhat noisy,
and in the highest spirits possible : the ladies, in the height
of their innocent animation, dancing in the gentlemen's hats,
and the gentlemen promenading "the gay and festive scene"


in the ladies' bonnets, or with the more expensive ornaments
of false noses, and low-crowned, tinder-box-looking hats:
playing children's drums, and accompanied by ladies on the
penny trumpet.

The noise of these various instruments, the orchestra, the
shouting, the " scratchers," and the dancing, is perfectly
bewildering. The dancing, itself, beggars description every
figure lasts about an hour, and the ladies bounce up and
down the middle, with a degree of spirit which is quite inde-
scribable. As to the gentlemen, they stamp their feet against
the ground, every time "hands four round" begins, go down
the middle and up again, with cigars in their mouths, and
silk handkerchiefs in their hands, and whirl their partners
round, nothing loth, scrambling and falling, and embracing,
and knocking up against the other couples, until they are
fairly tired out, and can move no longer. The same scene is
repeated again and again (slightly varied by an occasional
" row ") until a late hour at night : and a great many clerks
and 'prentices find themselves next morning with aching
heads, empty pockets, damaged hats, and a very imperfect
recollection of how it was they did not get home.



LONDON, 2s. 6d"

Such are the written placards wafered up in the gentlemen's
dressing-room, or the green-room (where there is any), at
a private theatre; and such are the sums extracted from the
shop-till, or overcharged in the office expenditure, by the
donkeys who are prevailed upon to pay for permission to
exhibit their lamentable ignorance and boobyism on the stage
of a private theatre. This they do, in proportion to the
scope afforded by the character for the display of their
imbecility. For instance, the Duke of Glo'ster is well
worth two pounds, because he has it all to himself; he must
wear a real sword, and what is better still, he must draw it,
several times in the course of the piece. The soliloquies
alone are well worth fifteen shillings ; then there is the stab-
bing King Henry decidedly cheap at three-and-sixpence,
that's eighteen-and -sixpence ; bullying the coffin-bearers say
eighteen-pence, though it's worth much more that's a pound.
Then the love scene with Lady Ann, and the bustle of the
fourth act can't be dear at ten shillings more that's only
one pound ten, including the " oft' with his head ! " which
is sure to bring down the applause, and it is very easy to


do " Orf with his ed " (very quick and loud ; then slow
and sneeringly) " So much for Bu-u-u-uckingham ! " Lay
the emphasis on the "uck;" get yourself gradually into a
corner, and work with your right hand, while you're saying
it, as if you were feeling your way, and it's sure to do. The
tent scene is confessedly worth half-a-sovereign, and so you
have the fight in, gratis, and everybody knows what an effect
may be produced by a good combat. One two three
four over; then, one two three four under; then
thrust; then dodge and slide about; then fall down on one
knee ; then fight upon it, and then get up again and stagger.
You may keep on doing this, as long as it seems to take
say ten minutes and then fall down (backwards, if you
can manage it without hurting yourself), and die game :
nothing like it for producing an effect. They always do
it at Astley's and Sadler's Wells, and if they don't know
how to do this sort of thing, who in the world does ? A
small child, or a female in white, increases the interest of a
combat materially indeed, we are not aware that a regular
legitimate terrific broadsword combat could be done without ;
but it would be rather difficult, and somewhat unusual, to
introduce this effect in the last scene of Richard the Third,
so the only thing to be done, is, just to make the best of a
bad bargain, and be as long as possible fighting it out.

The principal patrons of private theatres are dirty boys,
low copying-clerks in attorneys 1 offices, capacious-headed
youths from city counting-houses, Jews whose business, as
lenders of fancy dresses, is a sure passport to the amateur
stage, shop-boys who now and then mistake their masters'
money for their own ; and a choice miscellany of idle vaga-
bonds. The proprietor of a private theatre may be an
ex-scene-painter, a low coffee-house-keeper, a disappointed
eighth-rate actor, a retired smuggler, or uncertificated bank-
rupt. The theatre itself may be in Catherine-street, Strand,
the purlieus of the city, the neighbourhood of GrayMnn-lane,
or the vicinity of Sadler's Wells ; or it may, perhaps, form


the chief nuisance of some shabby street, on the Surrey side
of Waterloo-bridge.

The lady performers pay nothing for their characters,
and it is needless to add, are usually selected from one class
of society ; the audiences are necessarily of much the same
character as the performers, who receive, in return for their
contributions to the management, tickets to the amount of
the money they pay.

All the minor theatres in London, especially the lowest,
constitute the centre of a little stage-struck neighbourhood.
Each of them has an audience exclusively its own ; and at any
you will see dropping into the pit at half-price, or swaggering
into the back of a box, if the price of admission be a reduced
one, divers boys of from fifteen to twenty-one years of age,
who throw back their coat and turn up their wristbands,
after the portraits of Count D'Orsay, hum tunes and whistle
when the curtain is down, by way of persuading the people
near them, that they are not at all anxious to have it up
again, and speak familiarly of the inferior performers as Bill
Such-a-one, and Ned So-and-so, or tell each other how a new
piece called The Unknown Bandit of the Invisible Cavern, is
in rehearsal ; how Mister Palmer is to play The Unknown
Bandit ; how Charley Scarton is to take the part of an
English sailor, and fight a broadsword combat with six
unknown bandits, at one and the same time (one theatrical
sailor is always equal to half a dozen men at least) ; how
Mister Palmer and Charley Scarton are to go through a
double hornpipe in fetters in the second act ; how the interior
of the invisible cavern is to occupy the whole extent of the
stage ; and other town-surprising theatrical announcements.
These gentlemen are the amateurs the Richards, ShylockSy
Beverleys, and Othellos the Young Dorntons, Rovers, Captain
Absolutes, and Charles Surfaces of a private theatre.

See them at the neighbouring public-house or the theatrical
coffee-shop ! They are the kings of the place, supposing no
real performers to be present; and roll about, hats on one


side, and arms a-kimbo, as if they had actually come into
possession of eighteen shillings a-week, and a share of a ticket
night. If one of them does but know an Astley's super-
numerary he is a happy fellow. The mingled air of envy
and admiration with which his companions will regard him,
as he converses familiarly with some mouldy-looking man in
a fancy neckerchief, whose partially corked eyebrows, and
half-rouged face, testify to the fact of his having just left
the stage or the circle, sufficiently shows in what high
admiration these public characters are held.

With the double view of guarding against the discovery
of friends or employers, and enhancing the interest of an
assumed character, by attaching a high-sounding name to its
representative, these geniuses assume fictitious names, which
are not the least amusing part of the play-bill of a private
theatre. Belville, Melville, Treville, Berkeley, Randolph,
Byron, St. Clair, and so forth, are among the humblest ; and
the less imposing titles of Jenkins, Walker, Thomson, Barker,
Solomons, &c., are completely laid aside. There is something
imposing in this, and it is an excellent apology for shabbiness
into the bargain. A shrunken, faded coat, a decayed hat, a
patched and soiled pair of trousers nay, even a very dirty
shirt (and none of these appearances are very uncommon
among the members of the corps dramatique), may be worn
for the purpose of disguise, and to prevent the remotest
chance of recognition. Then it prevents any troublesome
inquiries or explanations about employment and pursuits ;
everybody is a gentleman at large, for the occasion, and there
are none of those unpleasant and unnecessary distinctions to
which even genius must occasionally succumb elsewhere. As
to the ladies (God bless them), they are quite above any
formal absurdities; the mere circumstance of your being
behind the scenes is a sufficient introduction to their society
for of course they know that none but strictly respectable
persons would be admitted into that close fellowship with
them, which acting engenders. They place implicit reliance


on the manager, no doubt; and as to the manager, he is all
affability when he knows you well, or, in other words, when
he has pocketed your money once, and entertains confident
hopes of doing so again.

A quarter before eight there will be a full house to-
night six parties in the boxes, already ; four little boys and
a woman in the pit; and two fiddles and a flute in the
orchestra, who have got through five overtures since seven
o'clock (the hour fixed for the commencement of the per-
formances), and have just begun the sixth. There will be
plenty of it, though, when it does begin, for there is enough
in the bill to last six hours at least.

That gentleman in the white hat and checked shirt, brown
coat and brass buttons, lounging behind the stage-box on
the O. P. side, is Mr. Horatio St. Julien, alias Jem Lark ins.
His line is genteel comedy his father's, coal and potato. He
does Alfred Highflier in the last piece, and very well hell do it
at the price. The party of gentlemen in the opposite box,
to whom he has just nodded, are friends and supporters of
Mr. Beverley (otherwise Loggins), the Macbeth of the night.
You observe their attempts to appear easy and gentlemanly,
each member of the party, with his feet cocked upon the
cushion in front of the box ! They let them do these things
here, upon the same humane principle which permits poor
people's children to knock double knocks at the door of an
empty house because they can't do it anywhere else. The
two stout men in the centre box, with an opera-glass osten-
tatiously placed before them, are friends of the proprietor
opulent country managers, as he confidentially informs every
individual among the crew behind the curtain opulent
country managers looking out for recruits ; a representation
which Mr. Nathan, the dresser, who is in the manager's
interest, and has just arrived with the costumes, offers to
confirm upon oath if required corroborative evidence, how-
ever, is quite unnecessary, for the gulls believe it at once.

The stout Jewess who has just entered, is the mother of


the pale bony little girl, with the necklace of blue glass beads,
sitting by her; she is being brought up to "the profession. 11
Pantomime is to be her line, and she is coming out to-night,
in a hornpipe after the tragedy. The short thin man beside
Mr. St. Julien, whose white face is so deeply seared with the
small-pox, and whose dirty shirt-front is inlaid with open-
work, and embossed with coral studs like ladybirds, is the
low comedian and comic singer of the establishment. The
remainder of the audience a tolerably numerous one by this
time are a motley group of dupes and blackguards.

The foot-lights have just made their appearance: the wicks
of the six little oil lamps round the only tier of boxes, are
being turned up, and the additional light thus afforded serves
to show the presence of dirt, and absence of paint, which
forms a prominent feature in the audience part of the house.
As these preparations, however, announce the speedy com-
mencement of the play, let us take a peep " behind," previous
to the ringing-up.

The little narrow passages beneath the stage are neither
especially clean nor too brilliantly lighted ; and the absence
of any flooring, together with the damp mildewy smell which
pervades the place, does not conduce in any great degree to
their comfortable appearance. Don't fall over this plate
basket it's one of the " properties " the caldron for the
witches' cave; and the three uncouth-looking figures, with
broken clothes-props in their hands, who are drinking gin-
and-water out of a pint pot, are the weird sisters. This
miserable room, lighted by candles in sconces placed at
lengthened intervals round the wall, is the dressing-room,
common to the gentlemen performers, and the square hole in
the qeiling is the trap-door of the stage above. You will
observe that the ceiling is ornamented with the beams that
support the boards, and tastefully hung with cobwebs.

The characters in the tragedy are all dressed, and their
own clothes are scattered in hurried confusion over the
wooden dresser which surrounds the room. That snuff-shop-

"RING UP! 11 145

looking figure, in front of the glass, is Banquo : and the
young lady with the liberal display of legs, who is kindly
painting his face with a hare's foot, is dressed for Fleance.
The large woman, who is consulting the stage directions in
Cumberland's edition of Macbeth, is the Lady Macbeth of the
night; she is always selected to play the part, because she
is tall and stout, and looks a little like Mrs. Siddons at
a considerable distance. That stupid-looking milksop, with
light hair and bow legs a kind of man whom you can
warrant town-made is fresh caught; he plays Malcolm to-
night, just to accustom himself to an audience. He will get
on better by degrees ; he will play Othello in a month, and
in a month more, will very probably be apprehended on a
charge of embezzlement. The black-eyed female with whom
he is talking so earnestly, is dressed for the " gentlewoman. 11
It is her first appearance, too in that character. The boy
of fourteen who is having his eyebrows smeared with soap and
whitening, is Duncan, King of Scotland; and the two dirty
men with the corked countenances, in very old green tunics,
and dirty drab boots, are the "army.""

"Look sharp below there, gents," exclaims the dresser, a
red-headed and red-whiskered Jew, calling through the trap,
" they're a-going to ring up. The flute says he'll be blowed
if he plays any more, and they're getting precious noisy in
front. 1 ' A general rush immediately takes place to the half-
dozen little steep steps leading to the stage, and the hetero-
geneous group are soon assembled at the side scenes, in
breathless anxiety and motley confusion.

" Now," cries the manager, consulting the written list
which hangs behind the first P. S. wing, "Scene 1, open
country lamps down thunder and lightning all ready,
White?" [This is addressed to one of the army.] "All
ready." " Very well. Scene 2, front chamber. Is the front
chamber down ? " " Yes." " Very well." " Jones " [to the
other army who is up in the flies]. " Hallo ! " " Wind up
the open country when we ring up." "I'll take care."


"Scene 3, back perspective with practical bridge. Bridge
ready, White? Got the tressels there ?" " All right."

"Very well. Clear the stage, 11 cries the manager, hastily
packing every member of the company into the little space
there is between the wings and the wall, and one wing and
another. "Places, places. Now then, Witches Duncan
Malcolm bleeding officer where^ the bleeding officer ? "
" Here ! " replies the officer, who has been rose-pinking for
the character. " Get ready, then ; now, White, ring the
second music-bell. 11 The actors who are to be discovered, are
hastily arranged, and the actors who are not to be discovered
place themselves, in their anxiety to peep at the house, just
where the audience can see them. The bell rings, and the
orchestra, in acknowledgment of the call, play three distinct
chords. The bell rings the tragedy (!) opens and our
description closes.



THERE was a time when if a man ventured to wonder how
Vauxhall-gardens would look by day, he was hailed with a
shout of derision at the absurdity of the idea. Vauxhall
by daylight ! A porter-pot without porter, the House of
Commons without the Speaker, a gas-lamp without the gas
pooh, nonsense, the thing was not to be thought of. It was
rumoured, too, in those times, that Vauxhall-gardens by day,
were the scene of secret and hidden experiments ; that there,
carvers were exercised in the mystic art of cutting a
moderate-sized ham into slices thin enough to pave the
whole of the grounds ; that beneath the shade of the tall
trees, studious men were constantly engaged in chemical
experiments, with the view of discovering how much water
a bowl of negus could possibly bear; and that in some
retired nooks, appropriated to the study of ornithology,
other sage and learned men were, by a process known only
to themselves, incessantly employed in reducing fowls to a
mere combination of skin and bone.

Vague rumours of this kind, together with many others of
a similar nature, cast over Vauxhall-gardens an air of deep
mystery ; and as there is a great deal in the mysterious, there
is no doubt that to a good many people, at all events, the
pleasure they afforded was not a little enhanced by this very


Of this class of people we confess to having made one.
We loved to wander among these illuminated groves, think-
ing of the patient and laborious researches which had been
carried on there during the day, and witnessing their results
in the suppers which were served up beneath the light of
lamps and to the sound of music at night. The temples and
saloons and cosmoramas and fountains glittered and sparkled
before our eyes; the beauty of the lady singers and the
elegant deportment of the gentlemen, captivated our hearts ;
a few hundred thousand of additional lamps dazzled our
senses ; a bowl or two of punch bewildered our brains ; and
we were happy.

In an evil hour, the proprietors of Vauxhall-gardens took
to opening them by day. We regretted this, as rudely and
harshly disturbing that veil of mystery which had hung
about the property for many years, and which none but the
noonday sun, and the late Mr. Simpson, had ever penetrated.
We shrunk from going ; at this moment we scarcely know
why. Perhaps a morbid consciousness of approaching dis-
appointment perhaps a fatal presentiment perhaps the
weather ; whatever it was, we did not go until the second or
third announcement of a race between two balloons tempted
us, and we went.

We paid our shilling at the gate, and then we saw for the
first time, that the entrance, if there had been any magic
about it at all, was now decidedly disenchanted, being, in
fact, nothing more nor less than a combination of very
roughly-painted boards and sawdust. We glanced at the
orchestra and supper-room as we hurried past we just
recognised them, and that was all. We bent our steps to
the firework-ground; there, at least, we should not be dis-
appointed. We reached it, and stood rooted to the spot
with mortification and astonishment. That the Moorish
tower that wooden shed with a door in the centre, and
daubs of crimson and yellow all round, like a gigantic watch-
case ! That the place where night after night we had beheld

jj corj' 5 -nuta/i o/miC,


the undaunted Mr. Blackmore make his terrific ascent, sur-
rounded by flames of fire, and peals of artillery, and where
the white garments of Madame Somebody (we forget even
her name now), who nobly devoted her life to the manufacture
of fireworks, had so often been seen fluttering in the wind,
as she called up a red, blue, or party-coloured light to illumine

her temple ! That the but at this moment the bell rung ;

the people scampered away, pell-mell, to the spot from whence
the sound proceeded ; and we, from the mere force of habit,
found ourself running among the first, as if for very life.

It was for the concert in the orchestra. A small party of
dismal men in cocked hats were " executing " the overture to
Tancredi, and a numerous assemblage of ladies and gentlemen,
with their families, had rushed from their half-emptied stout
mugs in the supper boxes, and crowded to the spot. Intense
was the low murmur of admiration when a particularly small
gentleman, in a dress coat, led on a particularly tall lady in
a blue sarcenet pelisse and bonnet of the same, ornamented
with large white feathers, and forthwith commenced a
plaintive duet.

We knew the small gentleman well ; we had seen a litho-
graphed semblance of him, on many a piece of music, with
his mouth wide open as if in the act of singing ; a wine-glass
in his hand; and a table with two decanters and four pine-
apples on it in the background. The tall lady, too, we had
gazed on, lost in raptures of admiration, many and many a
time how different people do look by daylight, and without
punch, to be sure ! It was a beautiful duet : first the small
gentleman asked a question, and then the tall lady answered
it ; then the small gentleman and the tall lady sang together
most melodiously; then the small gentleman went through
a little piece of vehemence by himself, and got very tenor
indeed, in the excitement of his feelings, to which the tall
lady responded in a similar manner ; then the small gentleman
had a shake or two, after which the tall lady had the same,
and then they both merged imperceptibly into the original


air : and the band wound themselves up to a pitch of fury,
and the small gentleman handed the tall lady out, and the
applause was rapturous.

The comic singer, however, was the especial favourite; we
really thought that a gentleman, with his dinner in a pocket-
handkerchief, who stood near us, would have fainted with
excess of joy. A marvellously facetious gentleman that
comic singer is ; his distinguishing characteristics are, a wig
approaching to the flaxen, and an aged countenance, and he
bears the name of one of the English counties, if we recollect
right. He sang a very good song about the seven ages, the
first half-hour of which afforded the assembly the purest

Online LibraryCharles DickensThe works of Charles Dickens (Volume 26) → online text (page 12 of 31)