Tsuioko

Source: Ryūnosuke Akutagawa, Tsuioko [Memoirs] (1926), quoted in Dennis Washburn and Carole Cavanaugh (eds.), Word and Image in Japanese Cinema (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001), p. xix

Text: I was probably five or six when I saw a moving picture for the first time. I went with my father, if I remember rightly, to see this marvellous novelty at the Nishuro in Okawabata. The motion pictures were not projected on a large screen as they are nowadays. The size of the image was a rather small four-by-six or so. Also, they had no real story, nor were they as complex as films are these days. I remember, among the pictures that evening, one of a man fishing. He hooked a big one then fell head over heels into the water. He wore some kind of straw hat, and behind the long fishing pole he held in his hand were reeds and willows waving in the wind. Oddly enough, though my memory may be wrong, I fancy the man looked something like Admiral Nelson.

Comments: Ryūnosuke Akutagawa (1892-1927) was a Japanese short story writer, whose stories helped inspire Akira Kurosawa’s film Rashōmon. He was raised in Tokyo. My thanks to Dawid Glownia from bringing this passage to my attention.

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Working North from Patagonia

Source: Harry A. Franck, Working North from Patagonia; being the narrative of a journey, earned on the way, through southern and eastern South America (New York: The Century Co., 1921), pp. 357-358

Text: Long before the first session ended we had closed the inner doors and the lobby was threatening to overflow. For the first time in Brazil I had permitted other “special attractions” to be offered with our own; that is, in addition to the ordinary films Ruben had engaged two stray Italian females who howled through several spasms of what they and most of the audience seemed to think was music. As they had been hired before our contract was made, and their wages were nothing out of our pockets, I could only reasonably demand that the Kinetophone remain the head-liner …

Our first Sunday, in particular, was a busy day. It is the custom all over Brazil for the “excellentissimas familias” to go to the “movies” on Sunday afternoon or evening, and the habit is so fixed that they prefer to pack in to the point of drowning in their own perspiration, even at double prices, rather than see a better show on a week day. For managers naturally take advantage of this fad and offer their poorest attractions—just as Ruben withdrew his “imported artists” on this day—knowing they will fill their houses anyway. If only we could have taken Sunday with us, movable, transportable, and played on that day in every town, we would have made as great a fortune as if the World War had never cast the pall of a “brutal crisis” over Brazil.

By one in the afternoon I was at the theater door in impresario full-dress and managerial smile, greeting the considerable crowd that came to the matinee, and disrupting the plans of those who had hoped to drag five or six children by in the shadow of their skirts or trousers. Then, with scarcely time for a meat-laden Brazilian supper in our disreputable hotel across the street, I came back to the most crowded theater I had seen in months. By 7:30 we had already closed the inner doors and the elite of Bahia continued to stack up in the lobby until that, too, had overflowed long before the first session ended. We were compelled to send policemen in to eject the first audience, and when the house had been emptied and the gates opened again, it flooded full from floor to “paradise” five stories up as quickly as a lock at Panama does with water. Even then all could not crowd in, and we herded them up once more in preparation for a third session, which, though not beginning until after ten, was also packed. Nothing so warms the cockles of a manager’s heart as to watch an unbroken sea of flushed and eager faces following his entertainment. By this time I had met most of the high society of Bahia, all her white and near-white “best families,” with now and then some physically very attractive girls among them, having marched at least once past my eagle eye. That night I carried off more money than had fallen to our lot since our first days in Rio and São Paulo.

Comments: Harry Alverson Franck (1881-1962) was an American travel writer, whose journeys took him China, Latin America, Europe and the USSR. For the journey through South America described in this book Franck served as an agent for the Edison Kinetophone, a film projection system synchronised with musical discs, and there are many descriptions of the operation of the Kinetophone and its mixed reception across the continent in Franck’s characteristically sardonic style. The show described took place at São Salvador, in Bahia state. Although the publication date of the book is 1921, the trip occurred around 1913-14.

Links:

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Diary of Frances Stevenson

stevenson

Source: Frances Stevenson, diary entry for 4 August 1916, Parliamentary Archives, FLS/4

Text: Friday, 4 August 1916

We went on Wednesday night to a private view of the “Somme Films” i.e. the pictures taken during the recent fighting. To say that one enjoyed them would be untrue; but I am glad I went. I am glad I have seen the sort of thing our men have to go through, even to the sortie from the trench, and the falling in the barbed wire. There were picture too of the battlefield after the fight, & of our gallant men lying all crumpled up & helpless. There were pictures of men mortally wounded being carried out of the communication trenches, with the look of agony o their faces. It reminded me of what Paul’s last hours were: I have often tried to imagine to myself what he went through, but now I know: and I shall never forget. It was like going through a tragedy. I felt something of what the Greeks must have felt when they went in their crowds to witness those grand old plays – to be purged in their minds through pity and terror.

Comments: Frances Stevenson (1888-1972), later Frances Lloyd George, Countess Lloyd-George of Dwyfor, was at this time private secretary to the Secretary of State for War David Lloyd George, and his mistress. They married in 1943. Lloyd George, who is “D” in the full diary entry, became prime minister in December 1916. The film they saw The Battle of the Somme, a documentary feature made by the British Topical Committee for War Films, which had a huge impact on audiences when it was released commercially in August 1916. My thanks to Carol O’Sullivan for having alerted me to the diary’s entry publication online.

Links: Copy at the Parliamentary Archives

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McGinty at the Living Pictures

Source: Joseph Flynn, ‘McGinty at the Living Pictures’ (1894), sung by Edward M. Favor, Victor 740, 1902

Text:
Dan McGinty went to the opera show
With his old wife Mary Ann,
And took a front seat, near the middle aisle,
Amongst the bald-headed clan.
But he wasn’t prepared for the sights he saw,
And he laughed with might and main
When the living pictures came to view,
Why he nearly went insane.

When he saw the Sleeping Beauty, why he got such a shock
You could hear his heart a-ticking like an eight-day clock.
Then he danced and he pranced, and says he, “I’ve been to France,
But that’s the finest sight I ever saw.”
Then his eyes bulged out, he began to shout.
The gallery boys they hollered, “Put that Zulu out.”
Then his wife grabbed his feet, pulled him under the seat.
So he couldn’t gaze upon the living pictures.

When the girl who posed as Venus, with her form so grand,
You could hear McGinty holler way above the band.
Then says he, “Mary Ann, you will lose your old man
If you don’t be quick and take me out entirely.”
When he saw the lady bathers, he jumped like a hare.
It took nine ushers for to hold him in his chair.
Then he whispered, with a grin, “Mary Ann, go take a swim
With the lady bathers in the living pictures.”

When he saw the other picture we thought sure he would die.
It was Adam and Eve gazing up to the sky.
Then he hollered, “Mary, dear, oh, why did you bring me here,
I can never love you now the way I used to.”
Then he looked at Mother Eve, and loudly he bawled,
Be golly, you’ll be chilly when the snow does fall.”
Then the ushers grabbed him nice, stuck his head in a pail of ice,
Just to keep him cool while at the living pictures.

Then he leaped and he creeped and he took another peep.
And the way he carried on made the audience weep,
Then his wife says. “Dan, do come home like a man.
If you must have living pictures, I will do them.”
But he didn’t hear her speak, he was off in a trance,
Standing on a chair, doing a “Hoochy-Coochy” dance.
When the last girl posed, why they had to turn the hose
On McGinty, when he saw the living pictures.

Comments: Joseph Flynn was an American composer of comic songs, some of which featured a stock Irish comic character, McGinty. The ‘living pictures’ McGinty sees in this song are not moving pictures but tableaux vivants i.e. posed scenes with live actors who did not move. The penultimate verse is given in the original sheet music but was omitted for this recording.

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Letters of James Joyce

Source: James Joyce, extract from letter to Stanislaus Joyce, 28 December 1904, reproduced in Richard Ellmann (ed.), Letters of James Joyce, vol. II (New York: Viking Press, 1966), p. 75

Text: One night I had a severe cramp in my stomach and Nora prayed ‘O my God, take away Jim’s pain.’ The other evening we went to a bioscope. There were a series of pictures about betrayed Gretchen. In the third last Lothario throws her into the river and rushes off, followed by rabble. Nora said ‘O, policeman, catch him’.

Comments: James Joyce (1882-1941) was an Irish novelist and briefly (December 1909-January 1910) a cinema manager. In 1904, while he and Nora Barnacle were living in Pola (now Pula) in what is now Croatia but was then part of Austria-Hungary, they went to a travelling film show, possibly the ‘Bioscopio elettrico’ managed by Carlo Lifka, which was located close to the Berlitz language school where Joyce taught. The reference to Gretchen and Lothario is probably generic rather than a specific film with those characters. Stanislaus Joyce was his brother.

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Are Movies Going to Pieces?

Source: Pauline Kael, extract from ‘Are Movies Going to Pieces?’, The Atlantic Monthly, vol. 214, no. 6 (December 1964), pp. 61-81, reproduced in I Lost It at the Movies (New York: Marion Boyars, 1993)

Text: One evening not long ago, some academic friends came to my house, and as we talked and drank we looked at a television showing of Tod Browning’s 1931 version of Dracula. Dwight Frye’s appearance on the screen had us suddenly squealing and shrieking, and it was obvious that old vampire movies were part of our common experience. We talked about the famous ones, Murnau’s Nosferatu and Dreyer’s Vampyr, and we began to get fairly involved in the lore of the genre – the strategy of the bite, the special earth for the coffins, the stake through the heart versus the rays of the sun as disposal methods, the cross as vampire repellent, et al. We had begun to surprise each other by the affectionate, nostalgic tone of our mock erudition when the youngest person present, an instructor in English, said, in clear, firm tone, “The Beast with Five Fingers is the greatest horror picture I’ve ever seen.” Stunned that so bright a young man could display such shocking taste, preferring a Warner Brothers forties mediocrity to the classics, I gasped, “But why?” And he answered, “Because it’s completely irrational. It doesn’t make any sense, and that’s the true terror.”

Upset by his neat little declaration – existentialism in a nutshell – by the calm matter-of-factness of it, and by the way the others seemed to take it for granted, I wanted to pursue the subject. But O. Henry’s remark “Conversation in Texas is seldom continuous” applies to California, too. Dracula had ended, and the conversation shifted to other, more “serious” subjects.

But his attitude, which had never occurred to me, helped explain some of my recent moviegoing experiences. I don’t mean that I agree that The Beast with Five Fingers is a great horror film, but that his enthusiasm for the horror that cannot be rationalized by the mythology and rules of the horror game related to audience reactions that had been puzzling me.

Last year I had gone to see a famous French film, Georges Franju’s Eyes Without a Face, which had arrived in San Francisco in a dubbed version called The Horror Chamber of Dr. Faustus and was playing on a double-horror bill in a huge Market Street theater. It was Saturday night and the theater, which holds 2646, was so crowded I had trouble finding a seat.

Even dubbed, Eyes Without a Face, which Franju called a “poetic fantasy,” is austere and elegant: the exquisite photography is by the great Shuftan, the music by Maurice Jarre, the superb gowns by Givenchy. It’s a symbolist attack on science and the ethics of medicine, and though I thought this attack as simpleminded in its way as the usual young poet’s denunciation of war or commerce, it is in some peculiar way a classic of horror.

Pierre Brasseur, as a doctor, experiments systematically, removing the faces of beautiful young kidnaped women, trying to graft them onto the ruined head of his daughter. He keeps failing, the girls are destroyed and yet he persists – in some terrible parody of the scientific method. In the end, the daughter – still only eyes without a face – liberates the dogs on which he also experiments and they tear off his head.

It’s both bizarrely sophisticated (with Alida Valli as his mistress doing the kidnaping in a black leather coat, recalling the death images from Cocteau’s Orpheus) and absurdly naive. Franju’s style is almost as purified as Robert Bresson’s, and although I dislike the mixture of austerity and mysticism with blood and gore, it produced its effect – a vague, floating, almost lyric sense of horror, an almost abstract atmosphere, impersonal and humorless. It has nothing like the fun of a good old horror satire like The Bride of Frankenstein with Elsa Lanchester’s hair curling electrically instead of just frizzing as usual, and Ernest Thesiger toying with mandrake roots and tiny ladies and gentlemen in glass jars. It’s a horror film that takes itself very seriously, and even though I thought its intellectual pretensions silly, I couldn’t shake off the exquisite, dread images.

But the audience seemed to be reacting to a different movie. They were so noisy the dialogue was inaudible; they talked until the screen gave promise of bloody ghastliness. Then the chatter subsided to rise again in noisy approval of the gory scenes. When a girl in the film seemed about to be mutilated, a young man behind me jumped up and down and shouted encouragement. “Somebody’s going to get it,” he sang out gleefully. The audience, which was, I’d judge, predominantly between fifteen and twenty-five, and at least a third feminine, was as pleased and excited by the most revolting, obsessive images as that older, mostly male audience is when the nudes appear in The Immoral Mr. Teas or Not Tonight, Henry. They’d gotten what they came for: they hadn’t been cheated. But nobody seemed to care what the movie was about or be interested in the logic of the plot – the reasons for the gore.

And audiences have seemed indifferent to incomprehensible sections in big expensive pictures. For example, how is it that the immense audience for The Bridge on the River Kwai, after all those hours of watching a story unfold, didn’t express discomfort or outrage or even plain curiosity about what exactly happened at the end – which through bad direction or perhaps sloppy editing went by too fast to be sorted out and understood. Was it possible that audiences no longer cared if a film was so untidily put together that information crucial to the plot or characterizations was obscure or omitted altogether? What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? was such a mess that Time, after calling it “the year’s scariest, funniest and most sophisticated thriller,” got the plot garbled.

In recent years, largely because of the uncertainty of producers about what will draw, films in production may shift from one script to another, or may be finally cut so that key sequences are omitted. And the oddity is that it doesn’t seem to matter to the audience. I couldn’t tell what was going on in parts of 55 Days at Peking. I was flabbergasted when Cleopatra, with no hint or preparation, suddenly demonstrated clairvoyant powers, only to dispense with them as quickly as she had acquired them. The audience for The Cardinal can have little way of knowing whose baby the priest’s sister is having, or of understanding how she can be in labor for days, screaming in a rooming house, without anybody hearing her. They might also be puzzled about how the priest’s argument against her marriage, which they have been told is the only Catholic position, can, after it leads to her downfall and death, be casually dismissed as an error.

It would be easy to conclude that people go to see a “show” and just don’t worry if it all hangs together so long as they’ve got something to look at. But I think it’s more complicated than that: audiences used to have an almost rational passion for getting the story straight. They might prefer bad movies to good ones, and the Variety list of “all-time top grossers” (such as The Greatest Show on Earth and Going My Way) indicates that they did, but although the movies might be banal or vulgar, they were rarely incoherent. A movie had to tell some kind of story that held together: a plot had to parse. Some of the appreciation for the cleverness of, say, Hitchcock’s early thrillers was that they distracted you from the loopholes, so that, afterwards, you could enjoy thinking over how you’d been tricked and teased. Perhaps now “stories” have become too sane, too explicable, too commonplace for the large audiences who want sensations and regard the explanatory connections as mere “filler” – the kind of stuff you sit through or talk through between jolts.

It’s possible that television viewing, with all its breaks and cuts, and the inattention, except for action, and spinning the dial to find some action, is partly responsible for destruction of the narrative sense – that delight in following a story through its complications to its conclusion, which is perhaps a child’s first conscious artistic pleasure. The old staples of entertainment – inoffensive genres like the adventure story or the musical or the ghost story or the detective story – are no longer commercially safe for moviemakers, and it may be that audiences don’t have much more than a TV span of attention left: they want to be turned on and they spend most of their time turning off. Something similar and related may be happening in reading tastes and habits: teen-agers that I meet have often read Salinger and some Orwell and Lord of the Flies and some Joyce Cary and sometimes even Dostoyevsky, but they are not interested in the “classic” English novels of Scott or Dickens, and what is more to the point, they don’t read the Sherlock Holmes stories or even the modern detective fiction that in the thirties and forties was an accepted part of the shared experience of adolescents. Whatever the reasons – and they must be more than TV, they must have to do with modern life and the sense of urgency it produces – audiences can no longer be depended on to respond to conventional forms.

Perhaps they want much more from entertainment than the civilized, but limited rational pleasures of genre pieces. More likely, and the box-office returns support this, they want something different. Audiences that enjoy the shocks and falsifications, the brutal series of titillations of a Mondo Cane, one thrill after another, don’t care any longer about the conventions of the past, and are too restless and apathetic to pay attention to motivations and complications, cause and effect. They want less effort, more sensations, more knobs to turn …

Comments: Pauline Kael (1919-2001) was an American film critic, noted for her strong opinions and sharp style. This is the first half of her essay. She continues with an argument against technique in ‘art house’ films for technique’s sake. She concludes, “People go to the movies for the various ways they express the experiences of our lives, and as a means of avoiding and postponing the pressures we feel. This latter function of art – generally referred to disparagingly as escapism – may also be considered as refreshment, and in terms of modern big city life and small town boredom, it may be a major factor in keeping us sane.” My thanks to Dawid Glownia for bringing the essay to my attention.

Links: Complete essay at www.atlantic.com

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My Eighty Years

Source: Robert Batchford, My Eighty Years (London: Cassell, 1931), pp. 253-254

Text: After tea we realized that we were both tired and went into a kinema to rest.
Oh, that theatre! Oh, that whirling, scurrying, unmeaning show, that surely was the weirdest part of the weird day-dream. What it was all about I cannot attempt to say. It was like a fevered and breathless nightmare. Squadrons of Mexicans and cow-boys chased each other on wild horses over wild prairies and wilder hills. Riders raced, guns fired, men fell, girls were abducted and rescued; a person in a slouch hat and decorated trousers, who might have been Ragtime Cowboy Joe, rode on horseback into a saloon and wrecked the chandeliers and mirrors with his “forty-four,” and when we came away was in the act of eloping with the general’s daughter, and would probably be pursued along roads and over mountains and across rivers by police and sheriffs in motor-cars, and there would be more climbing and leaping and shooting, and then the show would begin all over again.

Comments: Robert Blatchford (1851-1943) was a British journalist and socialist. This passage from his memoirs comes from a section describing a shopping trip in London in December 1917. My thanks to Lucie Dutton for bringing this text to my attention.

Links: Copy at Internet Archive

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Triumphant March into Port Arthur

Source: Hyakken Uchida (trans. Rachel DiNitto), ‘Triumphant March into Port Arthur’, in Realm of the Dead (Dalkey Archive Press, 2006 – orig. pub. in Ryojun Nyujōshiki, 1934)

Text: I went to a film festival of old moving pictures at Hosei University on Sunday, May 10, the day of the Imperial Silver Wedding Anniversary Celebration.

The windows in the lecture hall were covered with black cloth, throwing the room into darkness. Thin shafts of afternoon light snuck in with an eerie blue glow.

Random, confusing landscapes and faces flashed before me. The shootouts from the Ministry of War advanced with an exciting and relentless pace. Thick smoke enveloped the picture, obscuring clarity. I thought I could see the screen growing brighter through the dissipating smoke, but the images disappeared and the lecture hall suddenly lit up.

American comedies and newsreels alternately lit up the screen, and next up was the surrender of Port Arthur. An officer from the Ministry of War got up to introduce the feature. The film was originally shot by a German military observer and had only recently come into the hands of the Japanese Ministry. There were scenes not only of the famous meeting at the naval base of General Nogi and General Stessel, but also of the bombing of the fort at Niryuzan. A cinematic treasure, the officer explained, then he disappeared into blackness as the room went dark. But before his khaki-uniformed image faded from my eye, another was projected in its place – a soldier leading a parade of men headed for the front. Troops marched through Yokohama’s Isezakicho behind their bearded platoon leader. The dress braids of his uniform stretched like ribs across his chest, and he swaggered with his sword held high. The soldiers wore solemn expressions. That scene alone was enough to remind me of a twenty-year old military tune I’d long since forgotten.

I couldn’t understand why I was so moved by the bluish images of the mountains surrounding Port Arthur, but it was like seeing my own memories up on the screen. What a terribly somber mountain it was. A dim glow emanated from behind the hills, but the sky blanketing the peaks was devoid of light. I knew that the port lay under the darkest spot in the sky.

Soldiers hauled a cannon up the mountainside. The outline of the group blurred as they panted up the dark path. An older enlisted man, standing to the side, waved his hands back and forth, calling out orders. He howled like a beast.

I turned to the person next to me. “Poor bastards,” I said.

“Yeah,” someone responded.

Heads hanging, eyes fixed on the dark landscape, they advanced slowly against the weight of the heavy rope. The headless soldiers moved as an undifferentiated mass. Then one unexpectedly lifted his face. The sky was as black as the road. Cutting through the darkness like a dog with its head hung low. I saw a towering peak jut up before us as I too climbed the mountain.

“What mountain is that?” I asked.

“Beats me,” answered a nearby student.

Cannons shot into the mountainside. In a hollow under the cliff, a group of five or six soldiers furiously fired and reloaded artillery, the machinery rolling back and forth with the force of the recoil. White smoke rose and soon disappeared from the mouth of the cannon. The sound, too, was sucked into the belly of the dark mountain, the echo dying there as well. I felt uneasy not knowing where the shells were landing. Yet there was no choice but to fire. Not firing I would be more terrifying. Facing each other across the dark mountain, both sides let loose a deafening barrage of firepower day and night. The fighting changed the shape of the mountain itself. Those soldiers in the hollow acted out of fear. When smoke cleared from the cannon, I grew nervous. If only they’d fire again. Who cares where it landed!

An ominous cloud of smoke rose from a distant ridge. Tens, maybe hundreds of sparkling objects formed lines in the smoke. This was soon followed by another dark cloud. My eyes welled with tears when I learned this was the bombing of the mountain fort of Niruyzan. I cried for the men on both sides.

Next came the long-awaited encounter at the naval base. Amidst the bleak scenery I could make out the faint image of a cottage with stone walls. From off in the distance indistinguishable figures on horseback grew in size as they approached, but the blurry image never came into focus. It just faded away.

A formation of Russian soldiers on horseback rode unsteadily past a row of storehouses. The ceremony at the base was over. Nogi’s and Stessel’s expressionless faces passed quickly before my eyes like a bank of fog.

The title of the film, The Long-Fought 200-Day Battle, faded from the screen. Troops with neither packs nor guns marched by wearing long overcoats with sleeves hanging down over their hands. Houses lined the roadside, but it was hard to get any perspective on them – how far away they were, whether they had windows or roofs. There was something eerie about these lifeless men. Weren’t they in fact the war dead risen from their graves on the shadowy mountain for one final march? No one averted his gaze. They marched with their eyes on the men in front of them.

“The Triumphant March into Port Arthur!” boomed the voice of the officer on the stage.

The audience, crammed into that dark room, broke out in loud applause.

Tears streamed down my face. The row of soldiers marched on and on. My eyes clouded with tears, obscuring the people in front of me. I lost my bearings and was set adrift in an unfamiliar place.

“Quit crying,” said a man walking next to me.

Someone behind us was weeping.

The crowd kept clapping. My cheeks wet from crying, I fell into formation and was led out into the quiet of the city streets, out into nowhere.

Comments: Hyakken Uchida (1889-1971) was a Japanese novelist, short story writer and academic. He taught at Hosei University, which is in Tokyo. The films he describes seeing were of the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-5, which included the siege of Port Arthur, a Russian naval base in Manchuria, which ended in its capture by the Japanese forces. The Long-Fought 200-Day Battle, if such a film actually existed (the passage is meant to be a work of fiction), would have been a compilation of archive film of the war. The silver wedding anniversary of Emperor Taishō and Empress Teimei was in 1925. My thanks to Dawid Glownia from bringing this text to my attention.

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Old Humphrey’s Walks in London and its Neighbourhood

Source: [George Mogridge (‘Old Humphrey’)], Old Humphrey’s Walks in London and its Neighbourhood (New York, R. Carter & Brothers, 1851, 5th ed., orig. pub. c.1843), pp. 218-226

Text: This, then, is the Cosmorama. The little book put into my hand tells me that I have eight different views to gaze on. The Rope Bridge of Penipe, in South America; the Palace of Zenobia, at Palmyra; Constantinople during the conflagration in 1839; the Palace of Versailles; General View of Rome; the Park of Versailles; the Lake of Thun, in Switzerland; and the Village of Baden.

Often and often have I reflected on the varied and almost endless gratifications which await us, both in the natural and artificial creation! Truly, if our harps are not on the willows, if our hearts are in tune, a song of thanksgiving should be ever in our mouths.

The crowded city and the rural scene,
Alike are teeming with almighty lore!
Here the great Maker of this wondrous world
Sets forth his power and goodness infinite,
In mountain, vale, and wood; and there displays
The gifted properties on man bestow’d.

Though supplied with a book, giving some account of the different paintings, and furnished with paper on which to note down any suggestion that may occur to me, this passage is so dark, that I can neither read nor write legibly, without approaching the little windows, through which I must look to see the views.

THE ROPE BRIDGE OF PENIPE is the first painting. and a striking one it is. The bridge of twisted rushes, with sticks laid across, covered with branches of trees for a flooring, is represented as stretching over the river Chambo, near the village of Penipe, from rock to rock, a distance of one hundred and twenty feet. To cross such a bridge, a strong head, a bold heart, and a steady foot must be necessary. I can fancy a timid person, following his Indian guide, while the violent oscillation of the bridge hanging in air blanches his cheek, and makes his limbs tremble. Some say, and many things are more improbable, that the notion of suspension bridges arose from the rope bridges of South America. We need not, however, have travelled so far to make the discovery, as any spider would have furnished us with a model both scientific and secure.

THE PALACE OF ZENOBIA is one of the principal remains of the city of Palmyra. The Corinthian style of architecture, with the vastness that characterized the Egyptian buildings, are both sufficiently apparent. Palmyra was the Tadmor of king Solomon, a magnificent city of Syria, the stupendous ruins of which are situated in the midst of a sandy and sterile desert, around which, on three sides, mountains rise of considerable eminence. Zenobia was queen of Palmyra. Beautiful in person, and of extraordinary intellect, she united the refinement of the Grecian with the hardihood of the Roman character: this was her palace. In the pride of her power, she thought lightly of Rome; but Aurelian came as a conqueror, and her city was swept with the besom of destruction. Palmyra was a splendid city, afterwards a towm of little note; at a still later date it was an unimportant fortress, and now it is a mere miserable village. The costly ruins of its former greatness form a strange contrast to its present humiliation; for mud cottages now stand in the spacious court of the once splendid temple.

The owlet builds her nest in princely halls;
The lizard’s slime bestreaks the palace walls;
No trace of man, save that the embers spent,
Show where the wandering Arab pitch’d his tent,
The ruin tells us that the despot’s hand
Spreads desolation o’er the wretched land;
And tombs o’erthrown, and plunder’d fanes declare
Too plain — the royal robber has been there.

As I gaze on the painting, it wonderfully improves in appearance: what was a mere picture is now a real ruin, and in fancy I am standing in the midst of its mouldering magnificence. Mark the square blocks of stone through the principal portal, and the beautiful pillars, in the distance to the left, contrasted with the strength of the foreground.

Palmyra tells a tale of other times,
War and the whirlwind have alike despoil’d her.

CONSTANTINOPLE, DURING THE CONFLAGRATION OF 1839, must have been an awful spectacle. The little device of introducing an apparent flame that bursts forth, flinging a frightful red glare on the city, and then as suddenly subsides, involving the place in portentious gloom, is very effective. It gives a reality to the representation.

What a dreadful calamity is an extensive fire! Three thousand seven hundred houses were destroyed. Despairing fathers, frantic mothers, shrieking children, bedridden and helpless old age, all at their wit’s end. Alarm visited every house! Terror strided through the streets, and destruction in all directions raged abroad.

The shout of fire! a dreadful cry,
Inpress’d each heart with deep dismay,
While the fierce blaze and redd’ning sky,
Made midnight wear the face of day.

The building at the entrance of the Bosphorous there, is the seraglio, or palace of the sultan. To the right is the dome of Santa Sophia, the most celebrated mosque of the Moslems; and yonder is Pera, where the foreign ambassadors, the dragomans, and Frank merchants reside. Visit Constantinople as you will, by the Dardanelles and sea of Marmora, by the Black Sea and the Bosphorus, by the plains of Thrace or the hills of Asia, she will always be seen to advantage.

At present, the inhabitants of Constantinople follow the false Prophet; but the Christian humbly believes that the Mohammedan crescent will yet wane before the Star of Bethlehem. In vain shall the enemies of the cross contend against almighty power; at the appointed time, “the Lamb shall overcome them; for he is Lord of lords, and King of kings: and they that are with him are called, and chosen, and faithful,” Rev. xvii. 14.

THE PALACE OF VERSAILLES is an admirable view. The building, trees, gardens, flowers, hedges, grass, and water, are all excellent. Years have passed since I looked on the real palace; but this representation of it brings it back to my gaze, as though it were just before me. The façade of one thousand nine hundred feet, the projections, Ionic columns, and statues of marble and bronze, are truly magnificent.

The centre statue, in the distance, represents Marcus Curtius leaping into the abyss, as a sacrifice for the good of his country; and the fountain on the left is the Fontaine de Pyramide, formed of four basins, one rising above another. Every spectator will be interested by this view of the palace of Versailles. Such as have seen the original will admire it for its correctness; and those who have not will be spell-bound by its beauty and magnificence.

A group of children has entered the place, to witness the wonders of the Cosmorama. They are peeping through the little windows at the different views, full of joyous exclamation. With children, pictures are always perfect.

In happy ignorance of art, they see
Beauty in every plant and spreading tree ;
Gaze on the woods and waves, with glad surprise,
And speak their pleasure with their sparkling eyes.

Let there be red, and blue, and green, and yellow enough in his brush, and a painter may calculate on the youthful world for his admirers.

This GENERAL VIEW OF ROME takes not my fancy, though it will be full of interest to those who never saw a better. St. Peter’s and the Vatican, with its colonnade, and obelisk, and fountain: the Pantheon, the Colosseum, and the Antonine and Trajan pillars, are objects which associations render attractive; but on so miniature a scale, they can scarcely be expected to be very effective. The road between the trees there would be accurately traced by the eye of a Roman Catholic, for it leads to that mother of churches, St. Giovanni Laterana, the oldest in Europe, wherein the pope is consecrated. The scene before me takes back the thought

To that proud capital, where Cesars found a home,
When Rome was all the world, and all the world was Rome.

The temple of Jupiter Stator, the ruins of the palace of the emperors, and the Fontana Paolina, the finest fountain in Rome, may all be clearly distinguished by those who have a knowledge of the once imperial city. The Corso, the finest street in Rome, may also be traced, with the Quirinal Palace, the towers of St. Maria Maggiore, and the receding waters of the river Tiber.

Though the imperial city of Rome had not, like Athens, an altar inscribed “To the unknown God,” yet did its citizens ignorantly worship stocks and stones, as the people of Athens. They were wholly given up to idolatry.

THE PARK OF VERSAILLES, like the palace, is an object which at once arrests the attention; and the longer you gaze, the more are you disposed to linger on the scene before you. The foreground, fountains, with their margins of white marble, and groups of bronze figures, are very fine; and still more magnificent is the Fountain of Latona, with the white marble figures on the red marble steps, surrounded by seventy-four gigantic frogs spouting out crystal streams. The spectator, unacquainted with the fable of Jupiter, metamorphosing the peasants of Lybia into frogs, for refusing refreshments to Latona, will be at a loss to make out what is signified by the scene.

The canal there, more than four thousand feet long, crossed by one whose length is three thousand, forms a prominent feature in the representation. I could dwell on the particular points that afford me satisfaction; but ll appear beautiful. The sky is bright, and the park is delightful. The palace and park of Versailles, most certainly, form one of the most attractive scenes in the world.

THE VILLAGE OF BADEN, though presenting to the eye of the spectator a view of one of the most picturesque spots in all Syria, is to me one of the least impressive scenes in the exhibition.

When the fierce and fiery beams of the summer sun drive away the inhabitants of Scanderoon from the marshy and unhealthy situation of their dwellings, they find an agreeable retreat in the village of Baden, where excellent fruits and good water await them. The aqueduct arches, the Santon’s tomb, the minaret and dome of the mosque, the gulf of Ajazza, and the distant mountains of Lebanon, are not without interest; but so much are they eclipsed by several of the other scenes, that I will not dwell upon them.

THE LAKE OF THUN, in Switzerland, is to me by far the most attractive representation of the Cosmorama. It is enough to make the common-place spectator imaginative, and to inspire the poetic visitant with high-wrought visions of romantic beauty. To decide whether the mountains, the trees, or the skies are the most lovely, would be an arduous undertaking. If the sublime and beautiful were ever closely connected, they are so in these smiling valleys, these cultivated hills, and mighty mountains, whose cloud-capped, icy pinnacles are lost amid the skies.

Well may such scenes be valued by the Switzer peasant! Well may they afford pleasure to him by day, and mingle with his dreams by night!

Dear is that shed to which his soul conforms,
And dear that hill that lifts him to the storms;
And as a babe, when scaring sounds molest,
Clings close arid closer to his mother’s breast.
So the loud torrent, and the whirlwind’s roar,
But bind him to his native mountains more.

The lake of Thun is more than seventeen hundred feet above the level of the sea, while the Niesen, Moine, Riger, and Jungfrau mountains lift their snowy heads thirteen thousand feet and more amid the clouds. All that is picturesque and fair in Alpine scenery seems here embodied. The river Aar, which runs below the spot whence this view is taken, descending from the Finster-Aarhorn, rolls along the base of the glaciers, collecting all their tributary waters, and distributing them among the lakes of Thun and Brienta. It afterwards pursues a course somewhat circuitous to the Rhine on the German frontier. I must now bid adieu to the Cosmorama.

In perambulating from one exhibition to another, of panoramas, dioramas, and cosmoramas; of architecture, statuary, painting, science, and literature — the thought intrudes itself. Oh that all who have talent, all who excel among mankind, would bear in mind whence their powers were derived, and would humbly adore the Giver of all good for the endowments with which he has favoured them in this world, and the revelation of his mercy through the Redeemer!

It was a desire of this kind that moved the spirit of Kirke White to fling upon his paper the following beautiful, though somewhat florid thoughts:

“Oh! I would walk
A weary journey to the farthest verge
Of the big world, to kiss that good man’s hand,
Who, in the blaze of wisdom and of art,
Preserves a lowly mind, and to his God,
Feeling the sense of his own littleness,
Is as a child in meek simplicity!
What is the pomp of learning? the parade
Of letters and of tongues? Even as the mists
Of the grey morn before the rising sun,
That pass away and perish. Earthly things
Are but the transient pageants of an hour;
And earthly pride is like the passing flower
That springs to fall, and blossoms but to die

Comments: George Mogridge (1787-1854) was a British author of travel writing, children’s books and religious tracts, frequently using the pseudonym ‘Old Humphrey’. The Cosmorama was a peepshow entertainment. Visitors entered a darkened room and peered at panoramic translucent views through a series of windows (convex lenses). The first Cosmorama opened in Paris in 1808, and the Cosmorama Room in London opened in St James’s Street in 1821, moving to 207-209 Regent’s Street in 1823. Other Cosmoramas were located across London, but Old Humphrey presumably visited the Regent Street rooms (just before this passage there is a description of the Diorama in Regent’s Park).

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The Charm of Ireland

Source: Burton E. Stevenson, The Charm of Ireland (New York: Dodd, Mead & Company, 1915), pp. 396-397

Text: We went to a picture-show at Sligo, that night, and I have never seen a livelier audience. There was, of course, a cowboy film which was received with the keenest pleasure; and there was a lurid melodrama, which culminated in the hero flinging the villain over a high cliff, at which those present rose to their feet and stamped and cheered; and then King George was shown reviewing the Life Guards, and the crowd watched in moody silence — a silence that was painful and threatening. As the troops marched past, gallant and glittering, a sight to stir the blood, there was not the suspicion of a cheer or hand-clap — just a strange, breathless silence. We were to witness the same thing thereafter in “loyal” Derry — the most convincing evidence imaginable of the feeling toward England which every Irishman, Protestant or Catholic, carries deep in his heart.

Comments: Burton Egbert Stevenson (1872-1962) was an American author, journalist and librarian.

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