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auxiliary talent. One gentleman did wonders with a
banjo. I never heard a more refined rendering of
negro minstrelsy in my life. The gentleman uttered
his " wheezes " (I believe that is the technical term
for those mirth-provoking jokes that find so much
favour in the Great St. James's Hall) in a manner that
would have been entirely appropriate to the Row or
the stalls at the opera.

" You see," he said to me afterwards, " I felt
slightly out of it, and could not let them off with
much spirit. It is really very difficult to say * golly,
golly ' properly unless you are wearing three feet
shirt collars and a black face. As I was in my cus-
tomary evening-dress I am afraid the exclamation
sounded a little fiat Don't you think so ? "

" Not at all," I returned, " nothing could have been
in better taste. The clergyman who presided was
delighted, in spite of the fact tliat he had torn himself
away from a confirmation class to listen to you."


Besides the gentleman with a banjo, we heard a
reciter who told us gruesome tales (in blank verse)
about starved paupers and " the daughters of despair."
Further, one talented individual recited a Tommy
Atkins' Barrack Ballad in the most faultless fashion.
Seeing ladies present, he dropped his voice at words
referring to the infernal regions and a condition of
the atmosphere that would have excited the suspicion
of an inspector of nuisances. But the hero of the
evening was unquestionably my friend with the banjo,
and when he sang a song with a rattling chorus, and
appealed to the audience to join in it, the applause
was absolutely deafening. The function was alto-
gether a pleasant one, and we congratulated ourselves
all round upon having kept our humble friends the
juvenile Christians well employed.


Thanks to the kind invitation of a very old friend
of mine, I was present some little while ago at another
entertainment organised for the benefit of the poorer
classes at the East End. On this occasion we had
no songs, but a lecturer who dealt with matters of
history from his own standpoint. The address was
one of a series, and dealt with subjects not uncalcu-
lated to cause heated discussion. The audience was
distinctly mixed, and cheers and counter-cheers were


frequently heard during the course of the oration.
However, excellent order was maintained, and " fair
play " seemed to be the motto of the meeting. At
the end of the address questions were submitted to
the lecturer, which he proceeded to answer with the
most perfect good temper, although some of them
might have been couched in politer language. When
the speaker had to admit a ** palpable hit " the "' re-
tort courteous " was received with roars of laughter.
When I heard what was to be the subject of the paper
I had feared an angry altercation, possibly not con-
fined entirely to words. To my pleased surprise I
noticed that although the audience was divided in
opinion, there ,was no sign of violence.

" Remember, my good friends," said one of the
gentlemen on the platform, " that we respect the two
T's — tolerance and temper. So now that we have
done our palavering let us shake hands all round and
say good night."

The hint was immediately accepted, and with a
hearty cheer for the lecturer the meeting quietly


The result of my peregrinations in the East has
convinced me, that thanks to the march of education
or from some other equally excellent cause, the work-


ing man at the end of the Century is far more good-
natured and far more easily pleased than his pre-
decessors. He does not like to be patronised, and
delights in taking part in the proceedings of the
evening. On one occasion a not very wise chairman,
with a military title, was inclined to be dictatorial.

" Don't you be so arbitrary," shouted one of the
audience. " We ain't children, nor yet slaves. We
know how to behave, so don't you try to ride rough-
shod over us."

And this seemed to me the universal sentiment.
I do not believe that the modern working man is in
the least ungrateful, but he reads the newspapers now-
adays, and with their assistance " thinks a thing out."
He thoroughly appreciates the efforts of those who
show him the way how to enjoy himself in a rational
manner, but I fancy that he has already a suspicion
that, if needs be, he can get on without the kindly-
meant assistance. In the words of the remonstrator
who pulled up the dragooning chairman, " he is neither
a child nor a slave." Before we are far advanced in
the new century I fancy the working man will be
seen progressing alone, and if matters do not mend
in what Jeames de la Plushe used to call the " Upper
Suckles " it is not improbable in the years to come
that the East will visit the West, instead of waiting
to be visited.




Not very long since it was my privilege and pleasure
to be present at a modern reproduction of the famed
Vauxhall Gardens. The occasion was the first of a
series of Fancy Dress Balls at the Royal Opera,
Covent Garden. By offering handsome prizes to the
conventionally careless throng the management had
caused that frivolous company to become exceedingly
thoughtful. I have been told that for weeks, and
even months, before the ball, those who intend to
compete for " the gifts of Druriolanus " had been
busy in devising elaborate costumes. On the occa-
sion I noticed a number of excellent assumptions
that must have been the outcome of unlimited reflec-
tion and not a little imagination. As I watched some
most complicated " make-ups " passing by, I frankly
admit that I could not understand how their in-
ventors had come to scheme them out. I felt inclined


to observe (repeating a remark that has been
frequently addressed to myself when I have had the
pleasure of taking a lady down to dinner), I could
not " conceive how they came to think of such clever


Of course, those who desire to compete for prizes
at Covent Garden will have to expend a good deal
of ingenuity, and possibly no little expense, in con-
triving a dress likely to attract the favourable notice
of the powers that be. I have seen before now a
gentleman labouring slowly through a giddy throng
in the substantial costume of a bust upon a pedestal,
and another masker in the garb of a lay figure. The
latter was extremely well conceived and carried out.
But those who make these attempts after realism
should be blessed with the best of good tempers. I
frankly confess that I have never appeared as an
artist's model myself, and I have no desire to try my
luck in such an assumption. I have been credibly
informed that he who appears as an animated life-
sized doll has to display considerable dexterity in
preserving his balance, for a push accidental or the
reverse may upset his equilibrium. Such a disastrous
pressure is calculated to cause an angry remonstrance
from the meekest of men, and savage words
emanating from a benevolent mask are hkely to


produce more laughter than sympathy. Many years
ago, when I was allowed to appear in amateur
theatricals, I was permitted to fill the not very im-
portant rdh of "Zoyland the Blacksmith," in A
Sheep in Wolfs Clothing. Thinking that my ex-
cellent abilities had been unfairly ignored, I intro-
duced a little " comic business " into my part that
certainly would have provoked the hostile criticism
of the author, my valued friend, the late Tom Taylor.
A relative who was " got up " as a dissolute trooper
in Percy Kirke's " lambs " offered a remonstrance and
told me in irate tones " not to play the fool." These
** angry " words, spoken by a gentleman whose face
(with the kind assistance of the Clarkson of the
period) bore a stereotyped drunken grin, were
irresistibly comic, and deeply as I regretted that I
should have given him jwst cause for complaint, 1
could not help indulging in exuberant merriment.
The more he stormed the more I roared, and had we
been a few years younger I fear that the interview
would have ended with fisticuffs. So I have reasons
for counselling those who adopt elaborate or eccentric
toilettes to keep their temper. It is almost impos-
sible (under provocation) to preserve a dignified de-
meanour if you happen to be successfully suggesting
a village pump or a humanised lobster. Even
Macready made up as " a picnic luncheon " would
have been at a disadvantage in the midst of a crowd


of farceurs wearing the " modest simplicity " of
modern evening dress. At least, such is my opinion
after reading the life of the Great Tragedian. But,
of course, I offer that opinion for what it is worth.


I have been told that the simplest costume is the
best for a private fancy ball. The first dress of
Claude Melnotte in The Lady of Lyons, is an ex-
cellent example of the simple combined with the
effective. All you require is a " jumper," a belt, blue
trousers, and gaiters worn over your shoes. But
simplicity can be carried too far. A friend of mine
once went to a costume gathering as the Ghost in
The Corsican Brothers. All he had to do was to take
off his dress-coat and waistcoat and paint a blood-
stain on the left side of his shirt over the region of
his heart. But the effect was rather repulsive, and
before the end of the evening I found the deceased
Louis dei Franchi hiding behind curtains, and in
other ways attempting to escape observation. On
the occasion to which I refer I appeared myself as a
Crusader, and I thanked my lucky stars that I had
not lived in the time of Peter the Hermit, as I cer-
tainly should have shrunk from visiting Palestine in
such an embarrassing costume. The weight of chain
armour is enormous, and if you do the thing


thoroughly, and allow the chains to cover the
soles of your feet, dancing of the most ele-
mentary quadrille becomes next to an impossi-
bility. The dress itself was certainly imposing.
It had been lent to me by the late Mr. Alfred
German Reed, and had been worn by Mr. A.
W. Law in a " first part " at the St. George's Hall —
the site of the far-famed " entertainment " after the
clever " illustrators " had migrated from their first
home, " the Gallery of Illustration." The costume
was perfect. One of the details was a heavy helmet
of the saucepan-minus-handle order of sartorial
architecture. This head-covering caused me infinite
trouble. If L put it on it tumbled off, and if I laid it
on a seat it was sure to be the cause of consider-
able inconvenience to those who rested without
noticing its presence. I remember that it was the
means of making " a professional beauty " adopt an
expression never seen in any of her numerous cartes
de visite. Another drawback to the Crusader's
armour was the facility with which the wearer
dropped his rings. I found that my peregrinations
could be easily traced by my steel castings. Under
these circumstances I cannot conscientiously recom-
mend the costume of " Richard Coeur de Lion " to
anyone who values peace and comfort.

Another awkward dress is the habit of a North-
American Indian. When I was a young man I was


pursuaded by a friend to appear as "a chief " in a long
leather robe, a complicated headgear of eagle's
feathers, and moccasins. To "keep up the
character" I was induced to stain my face. 1
certainly escaped recognition, and had the further
advantage of hearing myself called " that melancholy
idiot looking like a dying parrot ; " but these pleasures
were scarcely sufficient to compensate for the nuisance
of being universally avoided by dancers as well as
wall-flowers. At the time I was editing a London
evening paper, and left the ball (it was held at
Brighton) by an early train for the metropolis. I
had no time to change my costume before meeting
my sub-editor, and I shall never forget the look of
surprise on the face of the late Mr. Brockwell Dalton
when I asked him " to kindly give me the proof of
the leaders."


In the olden days juvenile revellers were rather
fond of the costume of Charles II. I refer to the
period when moustaches were unknown to the upper
lips of anyone outside the commissioned ranks of
the cavalry. The representatives of his late Majesty
of festive memory had to wear false hair, and I can
just remember that such an ornament is distinctly
inconvenient. The heat of the ball-room generally


melted the gum, and one had to be constantly re-
affixing the hirsute appendage. I am able to declare
from experience that it is no easy matter to take
supper in a false moustache. It interferes with the
soup, disagrees with the mayonnaise, and intercepts
the champagne. Besides a melancholy Charles II.
although, possibly, historically accurate, is a dismal
sight in the ball-room. Albert Smith, and (I think)
Horace Mayhew, wrote much of the hals masques of
their day, and invariably selected as a type of the
saddest of the sad, a woe-begone representative of
the " merry monarch." So I think I may insist on
the assertion, that if a man elects to go to a fancy
dress ball as a " gay cavalier," he should at least be
naturally cheerful. It is the sort of costume that
might have been appropriately worn by Mark Tapley.


It is a little dangerous to talk of ladies' dresses.
Powder always looks well, and it may be conceded
that the female representatives of the human race
usually appear more charming than their lords if not
masters. Still there may be drawbacks to the cos-
tumes chosen by our woman kind. If Esmeralda
accepts the accompaniment of a goat (either real or
stuffed) the disadvantage is obvious ; and Marguerite,
if she insists upon bringing with her the spinnin


wheel, will also be (as much as any lady can be) a
nuisance. Then it is rather embarrassing when a
female friend counts upon " realising " a well-known
picture. If she wears a white wig and carries a
flower you may safely suggest " The Lost Duchess
of Devonshire " — now, by the way, slightly out of
date — and a ruff and black velvet are strongly pre-
sumptive of a desire to reproduce " Mary Queen of
Scots on her way to Execution." But when you
have hazarded these fairly safe assumptions there is
considerable danger in guessing anything else.

" Who am I ? " a lady asked me (in questionable
grammar) not very long ago.

I pondered, and noticed that she was wearing
flowing flaxen hair, a brown gown, gants de suede,
and diamonds. I remembered that she had a boy at
Eton, and deferentially suggested " Lady Macbeth."

" Oh, no ! " she exclaimed. " What an idea ! Try

Then I looked at her once more, and yet again.
She had no ruff, so she would not be " Mary Queen
of Scots," and her flowing wavy tresses negatived
the presumption that she was the Lost Duchess, so I
" gave it up."

" Why, * Cinderella in the kitchen,' " she replied.
" Millais' picture, you know. You would have recog-
nised me at once if you had seen my broom. But I
have left it in a corner with my bouquet."



And then I admitted that had I seen the broom I
should have had a better chance. And so I should.


And now I feel that, after all, I have not said very
much about the best costume that a man can adopt
for a fancy dress ball. All that is required are a few
yards of gold lace, a theatrical star, and a fez. Get
into your evening dress, and exchange your tail coat
for a frock. Next pin or tack a strip of gold lace to
the outer seams of your trousers. Turn up your
collar, and put more gold lace on the inside, which
will now become the outside. Put gold lace round
the cuffs and at the back, and (if you like) bind with
the same material. Put on your star on the left
breast and assume your fez. Having done this, wear
a pair of blue spectacles, and you may safely call
yourself the late Khedive. If you want to be " quite
too good," add a white cotton umbrella lined with
green, and the assumption will be " simply perfect,"

So I may sum up my advice to those about to go
to a fancy dress ball, with the recommendation, when
in doubt about the choice of a costume — spoil the
Egyptian !




When the House is " up " and the members of the
Ministry are more or less " scattered," it might be ex-
pected that oratory would take (to use the slang of
the day) " a back seat." But this is far from the case.
Of late years the representatives of the people have
used the recess for airing their eloquence in the
presence of their constituents. The practice has found
favour in the eyes of the conductors of the press, for
almost anything is " good for copy " in the silly season.
So "extra parliamentary utterances" have become
quite welcome in October, and are sure of a hearty
greeting at the hands, or rather the pens, of editors
of all shades of political opinion. Under these cir-
cumstances it may not be entirely out of place to de-
vote a chapter to the consideration of speech-making,
the more especially as no Englishman, while residing
in his native country, is safe from receiving an invita-
tion at any time and almost on every occasion " to say



a few words " to those assembled before him. Speech-
making is as popular at the end of the century.


I have spoken of parliamentary orators, and al-
though I have never had the honour of sitting
officially on the benches of the House during business,
still I have had the pleasure and privilege of counting
amongst my friends many M.P.'s. These gentlemen
are supposed by their constituents to be full of elo-
quence, and so even if their remarks in Westminster
have been confined to an occasional " hear, hear," and
an even scarcer cry of " question," they are expected
to give a taste of their quality when they get back to
the voters they left (during the session) behind them.
Nowadays it is not easy to pack a meeting, and even
if it were it is not always expedient. There is nothing
like making use of the safety-valve, and it is some-
times wiser to let your opponents " have it out with
you " in public rather than in private, especially when
privacy means a long correspondence in the local

" I rather enjoy meeting my constituents face to
face," said one of my parliamentary friends the other
day. " At any rate I am sure of a respectful hearing
for the first quarter of an hour, and that is more than
I ever get at St. Stephen's."


Then he told me that he got up his repartees for
the occasion. He knew that he would be sure to
meet a certain jocular cobbler, who was eqully certain
of causing a good deal of interruption.

" I do not dislike the old fellow," continued my
friend, " and I fancy that he has a kind of respect for
me. But when we meet as ' man to man ' (a favourite
phrase of his), it is necessary that we should fight as
hard as wq can. He is sure to put any number of
awkward questions, and it will be my task to answer
them airily and wittily on the spur of the moment.
Here is a list of them. I shall have the answers cut,
dried, and polished before the night of the meeting.
There is nothing like getting up your impromptus
well in advance."

My friend was rather anxious, for he had lost one
of his greatest supporters, a gentleman habitually
described by the chairman as " Mr. Jones from Lon-
don." This important personage was unable to come
to the meeting, and the M.P. said he did not know
how he should get on without him.

" You see," said he, " he knows how to get at the
hearts of the poorer classes. Really when I have
heard him describing the noble fight for existence
amongst the lower orders, I have been moved almost
to tears. He has convinced me over and over again
that it is the duty of those who have cash to share it
with those who have it not. If it were not that I


know that he does not Hve up to his principles, I
should be ashamed to meet him. However, as a
matter of fact, although a rich man he carefully avoids
wasting his cash on charity. But on the platform he
is fn-st rate — Wilberforce and Howard rolled into one."
" How does he find time to attend meetings ? "
"Oh, he has plenty of leisure. He makes his
money by keeping a pawnbroker's shop and renting
the squalidest sort of common lodging-houses."

From these admissions I venture to think that
political meetings in the provinces (and, if it comes to
that, in London too) must not be absolutely earnest
and entirely convincing.


I suppose everyone has heard at some time or
another the most prominent speakers of the day.
Mr. Gladstone until the end retained his wonderful
silver-toned voice and his earnest manner. The last
time I had the opportunity of listening to the great
statesman he was apparently heart and soul interested
in some question about the wine duties. He had not
been expected to speak, but was sitting with his head
resting amidst his collars (shirt and coat), with his
hands clasping his elbows. He was perfectly motion-
less, but his eyes were bright and piercing.

" He wili be up directly," said a friend beside me,


and my friend was right All of a sudden Mr. Glad-
stone sprang to his feet and poured forth a flood of
earnest eloquence about something or other connected
with bottles. At this date I have not the faintest
idea what it was all about, but I know that at the
time I was deeply moved, and had I had to vote
should have certainly followed the right hon.
gentleman into his favourite lobby. I was com-
pletely carried away by his evident earnestness — for
the moment I honestly believed that the fate of my
country, nay, the fate of the universe, depended upon
something or other connected with bottles !

The last time I heard Lord Beaconsfield speak
was at Willis's Rooms in the days of the old building.
We had been called together to consider the advisa-
bility of erecting a statue to Lord Byron, and the
platform was occupied by several eminent ecclesi-
astics. There were, to the best of my recollection,
an archbishop and two or three bishops, and plenty
of deans, archdeacons, and such small clerical deer.
Lord Beaconsfield was received with enthusiasm. He
made a capital speech. I could not help contrasting
his style — his calm measured sentences — with the
dash and go of his great parliamentary rival. As
earnestness was the essence of Mr. Gladstone's ora-
tory, so was polished epigram the " stock " of Dis-
raeli's carefully considered utterances. The great
Conservative was delightfully calm. He was always


dignified, and even when flippant distinctly majestic.
I remember that on the occasion to which I refer he
made a point which convulsed the audience the mo-
ment it was understood.

"I do not pretend to defend all the faults of the
poet's private character. It is unfortunately common
knowledge that he was a libertine. But then, my
Lords and gentlemen," said Dizzy, turning to the
archbishop, bishops, and the remainder of the clerics,
" we have all been young ! "

The speaker spoke perfectly gravely. For a mo-
ment there was a silence, and then when the audience
took the point, came a shout of applause and a roar
of laughter. ' The idea of suggesting the possibility
that so eminently a respectful company might have
found themselves in the same boat with the pecca-
dilloes of Lord Byron was too lovely for words !


Amongst other orators of the past I call to
mind Archbishop Magee, who was, I suppose, at the
time of his lamented death, one of the finest (if not
the finest) speakers that the House of Lords could
boast. The last time I heard the prelate address an
audience was at a charity dinner in connection with
the Artists* Benevolent Fund. His address was a
model one. Nothing could have been better than the


contrast of light and shade. Now he was causing
roars of laughter, now bringing unbidden tears to
eyes generally free from such a sign of womanly
weakness. He took advantage of his nationality to

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Online LibraryArthur William À BeckettLondon at the end of the century : a book of gossip → online text (page 12 of 19)