A Wonderful Invention

M. Trewey (photograph from The Sketch article)

Source: ‘A Wonderful Invention: The Cinématographe of M. Lumière’, The Sketch, 18 March 1896, p. 323

Text:
A WONDERFUL INTENTION.

THE CINÉMATOGRAPHE OF M. LUMIÈRE.

Although unwilling to quarrel with William Shakspere about his statement that the rose would smell as sweet under any other name, I can’t help thinking that “Cinématographe” is a nasty word for busy people. It has a terrifying effect upon the man in the street who calls an entertainment a “show.” But it must be confessed that, despite its name, M. Lumière’s invention is one that will ultimately emulate the telegraph and telephone in usefulness. Instantaneous photography developed to a surprising extent is, apparently, the secret of the Cinématographe. Photographs of a moving scene taken at the rate of fifteen per second, and thrown on to a screen through the machine at the same rapid rate, enable the eye to retain one image until the successor is presented. The result is a moving picture of the event, scrupulously exact in detail, whose importance it would be difficult to overestimate.

The columns of The Sketch are my confessional, and I do not hesitate to say that its long name kept me away from the hew invention when the scribes of London were bidden to its reception.

I saw the Cinématographe worked for the first time at the Empire Theatre last Monday week. Ten pictures were presented. I take one, “The Arrival of the Paris Express,” as a type. A railway-station is the subject of the first photograph thrown on the screen, and, from flashes in all directions, it is evident that the effect is sustained by rapidly continued exposures. In the distance there is some smoke, then the engine of the express is seen, and in a few seconds the train rushes in so quickly that, in common with most of the people in the front rows of the stalls, I shift uneasily in my seat and think of railway accidents. Then the train slows down and stops, passengers alight, the bustle of the station is absolutely before us the figures are life-size. Old country women ascend and descend some man jumps on to the platform, and then looks about helplessly, until other passengers elbow him aside. It is such a scene as I have often witnessed on a journey to or from the Riviera and, in the darkened house, it stands out with a realism that seemingly defies improvement. Granting, for the sake of argument, that this picture took one minute to present, it represented nine hundred photographs originally taken at the station in the same space of time, and there was no palpable break in the continuity of the series. The effect on the audience was shown by the applause that would not be silenced until the picture was presented again.

M. Lumiere’s five-syllabled invention is yet in its infancy its possibilities are almost awe-inspiring. At present the photographs are no bigger than postage-stamps, and, thrown life-size on to the screen, they inevitably lose certain details. When practice has brought about perfection, where will the invention stop? Imagine it worked in connection with the phonograph. The past will become annihilated; our great Parliamentary debates, our monster meetings, our operatic and theatrical performances, will remain for ever, or even longer. I do not dare to think of the scientific and medical possibilities, but am content to dwell on the more popular ones. While the phonograph preserves the sounds, the Cin., &c., will do the rest. A trifle of about forty-five thousand exposures will preserve an Empire ballet intact for ever. Why did not M. Lumière arrange his invention before the exquisite Katrina became a thing of the past? Soon nothing that is beautiful will be mortal, and as the song has become immortal through the phonograph, the exquisite graces of the dance will be preserved by the new invention. Would not Horace have modified his famous ode to Postumus had he dreamt of such things as will soon be regarded as ordinary? I have for the last week been imagining some of the many things that will be represented or later. How splendidly a Spanish bull fight could be shown!

The present exhibition at the Empire Theatre, where, by the way, breathing-space is almost at a premium, is directed by M. Trewey, and I felt that I must call on him, in the interests of humanity at large, or rather, that large part of humanity given to Sketch reading.

I found M. Trewey on the stage of the Empire, smiling for all he is worth which is probably a large amount. No wonder he looked pleased. A few hours before he had been visited at the Polytechnic by the Duke and Duchess of Connaught, who had expressed their delight with his entertainment.

“M. Lumiere, of Lyons,” he said, is my oldest friend, and he gave me the choice of the country in which I would show his invention. Of course, I chose England. I had intended to retire from work altogether, for” – and his eyes twinkled – “I have been a careful man But I thought this work would be very light, so I took it. Now, I never know a moment’s rest, and I have promised the directors here to give at least one new picture every week. As soon as the fine weather sets in again,” he went on, we shall do fresh work on the racecourse, river, and similar places. We are not going to be idle.”

And, as though to prove his words, M. Trewey, with a hurried apology, bustled off to the centre of the stage with all the energy and enthusiasm of a very young man. I noticed that the machine was being rapidly prepared, and that one or two of the charming corps de ballet had evidently obtained permission to see the performance from the stage. Unfortunately for me, I was very much overdue at another house of entertainment. I could but sigh for the delight of the few occasions when my visits to Empire stageland have been longer. Then I departed.

Comments: The Lumière Cinématographe film show opened at the Empire variety theatre in London on 9 March 1896, having made its UK debut on 20 February. The entertainer Félicien Trewey, a friend of the camera-projector’s inventors Auguste and Louis Lumière, was the host of the show. Ten or so of the one-minute films were shown (sometimes with repeats, as indicated here). Such was its popularity that it was shown several times a day. This unsigned report is of particular interest for its first-hand account of the unease felt by some attendees of the first screenings at films featuring an oncoming train.

Links: Copy at British Newspaper Archive (subscription site)

The Nickelodeons: The Poor Man’s Elementary Course in the Drama

Source: Joseph Medill Patterson, ‘The Nickelodeons: The Poor Man’s Elementary Course in the Drama’ The Saturday Evening Post, 23 November 1907, pp. 10-11, 38.

Text: Three years ago there was not a nickelodeon, or, five-cent theatre devoted to moving-picture shows, in America. To-day there are between four and five thousand running and solvent, and the number is still increasing rapidly. This is the boom time in the moving-picture business. Everybody is making money- manufacturers, renters, jobbers, exhibitors. Overproduction looms up as a certainty of the near future; but now, as one press-agent said enthusiastically, “this line is a Klondike.”

The nickelodeon in tapping an entirely new stratum of people, is developing into theatregoers a section of population that formerly knew and cared little about the drama as a fact in life. That is why “this line is a Klondike” just at present.

Incredible as it may seem, over two million people on the average attend the nickelodeons every day of the year, and a third of these are children.

Let us prove up this estimate. The agent for the biggest firm of film renters in the country told me that the average expense of running a nickelodeon was from $175 to $200 a week, divided as follows:

Wage of manager $25
Wage of Operator 20
Wage of doorman 15
Wage of porter or musician 12
Rent of film (two reels changed twice a week) 50
Rent of projecting machine 10
Rent of building 40
Music, printing, “campaign contributions,” etc. 18
Total $190

Merely to meet expenses then, the average nickelodeon must have a weekly attendance of 4000. This gives all the nickelodeons 16,000,000 a week, or over 2,000,000 a day. Two million people a day are needed before profits can begin, and the two million are forthcoming. It is a big thing, this new enterprise.

The nickelodeon is usually a tiny theatre, containing 199 seats, giving from twelve to eighteen performances a day, seven days a week. Its walls are painted red. The seats are ordinary kitchen chairs, not fastened. The only break in the red color scheme is made by half a dozen signs, in black and white, NO SMOKING, HATS OFF and sometimes, but not always, STAY AS LONG AS YOU LIKE.

The spectatorium is one story high, twenty-five feet wide and about seventy feet deep. Last year or the year before it was probably a second-hand clothiers, a pawnshop or cigar store. Now, the counter has been ripped out, there is a ticket-seller’s booth where the show-window was, an automatic musical barker somewhere up in the air thunders its noise down on the passersby, and the little store has been converted into a theatrelet. Not a theatre, mind you, for theatres must take out theatrical licenses at $500 a year. Theatres seat two hundred or more people. Nickelodeons seat 199, and take out amusement licenses. This is the general rule.

But sometimes nickelodeon proprietors in favorable locations take out theatrical licenses and put in 800 or 1000 seats. In Philadelphia, there is, perhaps, the largest nickelodeon in America. It is said to pay not only the theatrical license, but also $30,000 a year ground rent and a handsome profit.

To-day there is cutthroat competition between the little nickelodeon owners, and they are beginning to compete each other out of existence. Already consolidation has set in. Film-renting firms are quietly beginning to pick up, here and there, a few nickelodeons of their own; presumably they will make better rates and give prompter service to their own theatrelets than to those belonging to outsiders. The tendency is early toward fewer, bigger, cleaner five-cent theatres and more expensive shows. Hard as this may be on the little showman who is forced out, it is good for the public, who will, in consequence, get more for their money.

Who the Patrons Are

The character of the attendance varies with the locality, but, whatever the locality, children make up about thirty-three per cent. of the crowds. For some reason, young women from sixteen to thirty years old are rarely in evidence, but many middle-aged and old women are steady patrons, who never, when a new film is to be shown, miss the opening.

In cosmopolitan city districts the foreigners attend in larger proportion than the English speakers. This is doubtless because the foreigners, shut out as they are by their alien tongues from much of the life about them can yet perfectly understand the pantomime of the moving pictures.

As might be expected, the Latin races patronize the shows more consistently than Jews, Irish or Americans. Sailors of all races are devotees.

Most of the shows have musical accompaniments. The enterprising manager usually engages a human pianist with instructions to play Eliza-crossing-the-ice when the scene is shuddery, and fast ragtime in a comic kid chase. Where there is little competition, however, the manager merely presses the button and starts the automatic going, which is as apt as not to bellow out, I’d Rather Two-Step Than Waltz, Bill, just as the angel rises from the brave little hero-cripple’s corpse.

The moving pictures were used as chasers in vaudeville houses for several years before the advent of the nickelodeon. The cinemetograph or vitagraph or biograph or kinetoscope (there are seventy-odd names for the same machine) was invented in 1888-1889. Mr. Edison is said to have contributed most toward it, though several other inventors claim part of the credit.

The first very successful pictures were those of the Corbett-Fitzsimmons fight at Carson City, Nevada, in 1897. These films were shown all over the country to immense crowds and an enormous sum of money was made by the exhibitors.

The Jeffries-Sharkey fight of twenty-five rounds at Coney Island, in November, 1899, was another popular success. The contest being at night, artificial light was necessary, and 500 arc lamps were placed above the ring. Four cameras were used. While one was snapping the fighters, a second was being focused at them, a third was being reloaded, and a fourth was held in reserve in case of breakdown. Over seven miles of film were exposed, and 198,000 pictures, each 2 by 3 inches, were taken. This fight was taken at the rate of thirty pictures to the second.

The 500 arc lamps above the ring generated a temperature of about 115 degrees for the gladiators to fight in. When the event was concluded, Mr. Jeffries was overheard to remark that for no amount of money would he ever again in his life fight in such heat, pictures or no pictures. And he never has.

Since that mighty fight, manufacturers have learned a good deal about cheapening their process. Pictures instead of being 2 by 3 inches are now 5/8 by 1 1/8 inches, and are taken sixteen instead of thirty to the second, for the illusion to the eye of continuous motion is as perfect at one rate as the other.

By means of a ratchet each separate picture is made to pause a twentieth of a second before the magic-lantern lens, throwing an enlargement to life size upon the screen. Then, while the revolving shutter obscures the lens, one picture is dropped and another substituted, to make in turn its twentieth of a second display.

The films are, as a rule, exhibited at the rate at which they are taken, though chase scenes are usually thrown faster, and horse races, fire-engines and hot-moving automobiles slower, than the life-speed.

How the Drama Is Made

Within the past year an automatic process to color films has been discovered by a French firm. The pigments are applied by means of a four-color machine stencil. Beyond this bare fact the process remains a secret of the inventors. The stencil must do its work with extraordinary accuracy, for any minute error in the application of color to outline made upon the 5/8 by 1 1/8 inches print is magnified 200 times when thrown upon the screen by the magnifying lens. The remarkable thing about this automatic colorer is that it applies the pigment in slightly different outline to each successive print of a film 700 feet long. Colored films sell for about fifty per cent. more than black and whites. Tinted films – browns, blues, oranges, violets, greens and so forth – are made by washing, and sell at but one per cent. over the straight price.

The films are obtained in various ways. “Straight” shows, where the interest depends on the dramatist’s imagination and the setting, are merely playlets acted out before the rapid-fire camera. Each manufacturing firm owns a studio with property-room, dressing rooms and a completely-equipped stage. The actors are experienced professionals of just below the first rank, who are content to make from $18 to $25 a week. In France a class of moving-picture specialists has grown up who work only for the cameras, but in this country most of the artists who play in the film studios in the daytime play also behind the footlights at night.

The studio manager orders rehearsals continued until his people have their parts “face-perfect,” then he gives the word, the lens is focused, the cast works rapidly for twenty minutes while the long strip of celluloid whirs through the camera, and the performance is preserved in living, dynamic embalmment (if the phrase may be permitted) for decades to come.

Eccentric scenes, such as a chalk marking the outlines of a coat upon a piece of cloth, the scissors cutting to the lines, the needle sewing, all automatically without human help, often require a week to take. The process is ingenious. First the scissors and chalk are laid upon the edge of the cloth. The picture is taken. The camera is stopped, the scissors are moved a quarter of an inch into the cloth, the chalk is drawn a quarter of an inch over the cloth. The camera is opened again and another picture is taken showing the quarter-inch cut and quarter-inch mark. The camera is closed, another quarter inch is cut and chalked; another exposure is made. When these pictures so slowly obtained we run off rapidly, the illusion of fast self-action on the part of the scissors, chalk and needle is produced.

Sometimes in a nickelodeon you can see on the screen a building completely wrecked in five minutes. Such a film was obtained by focusing a camera at the building, and taking every salient move of the wreckers for the space, perhaps, of a fortnight. When these separate prints, obtained at varying intervals, some of them perhaps a whole day apart, are run together continuously, the appearance is of a mighty stone building being pulled to pieces like a house of blocks.

Such eccentric pictures were in high demand a couple of years ago, but now the straight-story show is running them out. The plots are improving every year in dramatic technique. Manufacturing firms pay from $5 to $25 for good stories suitable for film presentation, and it is astonishes how many sound dramatic ideas are submitted by people of insufficient education to render their thoughts into English suitable for the legitimate stage.

The moving-picture actors are becoming excellent pantomimists, which is natural, for they cannot rely on the playwright’s lines to make their meanings. I remember particularly a performance I saw near Spring Street on the Bowery, where the pantomime seemed to me in nowise inferior to that of Mademoiselle Pilar-Morin, the French pantomimist.

The nickelodeon spectators readily distinguish between good and bad acting, though they do not mark their pleasure or displeasure audibly, except very rarely, in a comedy scenes by a suppressed giggle. During the excellent show of which I have spoken, the men, woman and children maintained steady stare of fascination at the changing figures on the scene, and toward the climax, when forgiveness was cruelly denied, lips were parted and eyes filled with tears. It was as much a tribute to the actors as the loudest bravos ever shouted in the Metropolitan Opera House.

To-day a consistent plot is demanded. There must be, as in the drama, exposition, development, climax and denouement. The most popular films run from fifteen to twenty minutes and are from five hundred to eight hundred feet long. One studio manager said: “The people want a story. We run to comics generally; they seem to take best. So-and-so, however, lean more to melodrama. When we started we used to give just flashes- an engine chasing to a fire, a base-runner sliding home, a charge of cavalry. Now, for instance, if we want to work in a horse race it has to be as a scene in the life of the jockey, who is the hero of the piece – we’ve got to give them a story; they won’t take anything else – a story with plenty of action. You can’t show large conversation, you know, on the screen. More story, larger story, better story with plenty of action- that is our tendency.”

………

Civilization, all through the history of mankind, has been chiefly the property of the upper classes, but during the past century civilization has been permeating steadily downward. The leaders of this democratic movement have been general education, universal suffrage, cheap periodicals and cheap travel. To-day the moving-picture machine cannot be overlooked as an effective protagonist of democracy. For through it the drama, always a big fact in the lives of the people at the top, is now becoming a big fact in the lives of the people at the bottom. Two million of them a day have so found a new interest in life.

The prosperous Westerners, who take their week or fortnight, fall and spring, in New York, pay two dollars and a half for a seat at a problem play, a melodrama, a comedy or a show-girl show in a Broadway theatre. The stokers who have driven the Deutschland or the Lusitania from Europe pay five cents for a seat at a problem play, a melodrama, a comedy or a show-girl show in a Bowery nickelodeon. What in the difference?

The stokers, sitting on the hard, wooden chairs of the nickelodeon, experience the same emotional flux and counter-flux (more intense is their experience, for they are not as blase) as the prosperous Westerners in their red plush orchestra chairs, uptown.

The sentient life of the half-civilized beings at the bottom has been enlarged and altered, by the introduction of the dramatic motif, to resemble more closely the sentient life of the civilized beings at the top.

Take an analogous case. Is aimless travel “beneficial” or not? It is amusing, certainly; and, therefore, the aristocrats who could afford it have always traveled aimlessly. But now, says the Democratic Movement, the grand tour shall no longer be restricted to the aristocracy. Jump on the rural trolley-car, Mr. Workingman, and make a grand tour yourself. Don’t care, Mr. Workingman, whether it is “beneficial” or not. Do it because it is amusing; just as the aristocrats do.

The film makers cover the whole gamut of dramatic attractions. The extremes in the film world are as far apart as the extremes in the theatrical world- as far apart, let us say, as The Master Builder and The Gay White Way.

If you look up the moving-picture advertisements in any vaudeville trade paper you cannot help being struck with this fact. For instance, in a current number, one firm offers the following variety of attractions:

Romany’s Revenge (very dramatic) 300 feet
Johnny’s Run (comic kid chase) 300 ”
Roof to Cellar (absorbing comedy) 782 ”
Wizard’s World (fantastic comedy) 350 ”
Sailor’s Return (highly dramatic) 535 ”
A Mother’s Sin (beautiful, dramatic and moral) 392 ”
Knight Errant (old historical drama) 421 ”
Village Fire Brigade (big laugh) 325 ”
Catch the Kid (a scream) 270 ”
The Coroner’s Mistake (comic ghost story) 430 ”
Fatal Hand (dramatic) 432 “

Another firm advertises in huge type, in the trade papers:

LIFE AND PASSION OF CHRIST
Five Parts, Thirty-nine Pictures, 3114 feet Price, $373.78
Extra for coloring $125.10

The presentation by the picture machine of the Passion Play in this country was undertaken with considerable hesitation. The films had been shown in France to huge crowds, but here, so little were even professional students of American lower-class taste able to gauge it in advance, that the presenters feared the Passion Play might be boycotted, if not, indeed, indeed, in some places, mobbed. On the contrary, it has been the biggest success ever known to the business.

Last year incidents leading up to the murder of Stanford White were shown, succeeded enormously for a very few weeks, then flattened out completely and were withdrawn. Film people are as much at sea about what their crowds will like as the managers in the “legitimate.”

Although the gourdlike growth of the nickelodeon business as a factor in the conscious life of Americans is not yet appreciated, already a good many people are disturbed by what they do know of the thing.

Those who are “interested in the poor” are wondering whether the five-cent theatre is a good influence, and asking themselves gravely whether it should be encouraged or checked (with the help of the police).

Is the theatre a “good” or a “bad” influence? The adjectives don’t fit the case. Neither do they fit the case of the nickelodeon, which is merely the theatre demociatized.

Take the case of the Passion Play, for instance. Is it irreverent to portray the Passion, Crucifixion, Resurrection and Ascension in a vaudeville theatre over a darkened stage where half an hour before a couple of painted, short-skirted girls were doing a “sister-act”? What is the motive which draws crowds poor people to nickelodeons to see the Birth in the Manger flashed magic-lanternwise upon a white cloth? Curiosity? Mere mocking curiosity, perhaps? I cannot answer.

Neither could I say what it is that, every fifth year, draws our plutocrats to Oberammergau, where at the cost, from first to last, of thousands of dollars and days of time, they view a similar spectacle presented in a sunny Bavarian setting.

It is reasonable, however, to believe that the same feelings, whatever they are, which drew our rich to Oberammergau, draw our poor to the nickelodeons. Whether the powerful emotional reactions produced in the spectator by the Passion Play are “beneficial” or not is as far beyond decision as the question whether a man or an oyster is happier. The man is more, feels more, than the oyster. The beholder of the Passion Play is more, feels more, than the non-beholder.

Whether for weal or woe, humanity has ceaselessly striven to complicate life, to diversify and make subtle the emotions, to create and gratify the new and artificial spiritual wants, to know more and feel more both of good and evil, to attain a greater degree of self-consciousness; just as the one fundamental instinct of the youth, which most systems of education have been vainly organized to eradicate, is to find out what the man knows.

In this eternal struggle for more self-consciousness, the moving-picture machine, uncouth instrument though it be, has enlisted itself on especial behalf of the least enlightened, those who are below the reach even of the yellow journals. For although in the prosperous vaudeville houses the machine is but a toy, a “chaser,” in the nickelodeons it is the central, absorbing fact, which strengthens, widens, vivifies subjective life; which teaches living other than living through the senses alone. Already, perhaps, touching him at the psychological moment, it has awakened to his first, groping, necessary discontent the spirit of an artist of the future, who otherwise would have remained mute and motionless.

The nickelodeons are merely an extension course in civilization, teaching both its “badness” and its “goodness.” They have come in obedience to the law of supply and demand; and they will stay as long as the slums stay, for in the slums they are the fittest and must survive.

Comments: Joseph Medill Patterson (1879-1946) was an American journalist and newspaper publisher, founder of the New York Daily News. Nickelodeons (a nickname given in America to the shop-conversions that preceded purpose-built cinemas) came to the interest on general newspapers and magazines in 1907. The illustrations come from the original publication.

Links:
Copy at Hathi Trust
Transcribed copy at The Silent Bookshelf (archived site)

The “Theatrograph” in Court

Source: ‘The “Theatreograph” in Court’, The Era, 18 July 1896, p. 7

Text: At the Clerkenwell County Court, on Tuesday, Robert William Paul, of 44, Hatton-garden, inventor and patentee of the “theatrograph,” and well known for his exhibitions at Olympia, Earl’s-court, and the principal music halls, was the plaintiff in an action to recover from “Wonderland, Limited,” a music hall company conducting their business in Whitechapel-road, £22 10s., three weeks’ rent of electric accumulators supplied to the defendants on hire. The defendants counterclaimed for £15 damages. Mr Gill, barrister, was for the plaintiff; and Mr Dodd, barrister, for the defendants.

The plaintiff’s case was that in April last he was engaged by the defendants, through their managing director, Mr Jonas Woolf, to give performances with his theatrograph at “Wonderland.” For these the plaintiff was to receive £20 a-week, in addition to £7 10s. a-week for supplying accumulators on lire, the defendants to provide the electric current. The plaintiff exhibited for three weeks, and was paid his salary, but had received nothing for the hire of the accumulators.

The defendants admitted their indebtedness for two weeks only. In support of their counterclaim they alleged they had bet heavily through the neglect of the plaintiff, whose performances were a complete failure. It was his duty to provide the electric current, but he had not done so, contenting himself with the use of weak batteries obtained from the defendants, and afterwards of limelight apparatus. The result was that the illusions presented by the “Theatrograph” were blurred and indistinct. The audience, it was said, used to hiss the performance, and many people had demanded and received back their money. The “Theatrograph” was the “star attraction” and, owing to its failure, the takings of “Wonderland (Limited)” fell in one week from £128 to £73, and in the next to £58.

Mr Gill (to Mr Woolf) – You say the “Theatrograph” was your star attraction, and that the losses of your music hall were due to its failure? Witness – The rest of the programme was mere padding.

Mr Gill (reading from a poster) – Do you call the Bear Lady padding – “A native of Africa, full grown, whose arms and legs are formed in exactly the same manner as the animal after which she is named?” Witness – Yes, the Bear Lady was padding.

Mr Gill – And the Fire Queens, “who have appeared before the Prince of Wales, the King and Queen of Italy, and King and Queen of Portugal, who pour molten lead into their mouths, lick red-holt pokers, and remain several minutes enveloped in flames and fire?” Witness – Yes, the Fire Queens were also padding.

Mr Gill – I am not surprised that these monstrous exaggerations damaged your business. It was not the theatrograph.

Judge Meadows White held that it was the duty of the defendants to have supplied a proper light, the absence of which had caused the failures of which they complained. He gave judgment for the plaintiff, with costs, and disallowed the counter-claim.

Comments: Wonderland was an entertainment venue in Whitechapel in London’s East End. It was best-known for hosting boxing bouts, but included other kinds of entertainment, including the Theatrograph projector of British inventor Robert Paul, whose poor reception in April (two months after its public debut) Clerkenwell County Court decided was due to poor illumination from the venue’s accumulators, at a hearing on 14 July 1896.

Links: Copy at British Newspaper Archive (subscription site)

An Island Night’s Entertainment

Illustration accompanying the article in The Ladies’ Mirror

Source: ‘Inbad’, ‘An Island Night’s Entertainment’, The Ladies’ Mirror, 1 May 1925, pp. 59-60

Text: Those who only know the “Movies” in such palatial homes as New Zealand provides may care to hear how we unsophisticated South Sea Islanders keep in touch with the screen world.

As I sit on my front steps watching the star-shadows of the coco-palms lengthen on the green until they fade away as the sun sinks, and the hills take on the wonderful afterglow of the tropics, there comes into my head a verse of Laurence Hope’s which might have been written about this spot:

The daylight is dying. the flying fox is flying,
Amber and amethyst flame in the sky;
See, the sun throws a late, lingering roseate
Kiss to the landscape to bid it goodbye.

The glow on the hills gradually fades until only little clouds high up keep the warm tint; the chatter of hundreds of mynahs in the purau trees dies away as they settle for the night, and gradually the scent of a myriad flowers, unnoticed in the day, steals down the soft breeze and mingles with the smell of wood smoke from the neighbouring village as the evening meal is prepared. Just as I knock the ashes from my pipe preparatory to going indoors to light the lamp and settle to an evening’s reading, a figure comes soft-footed across the lawn and proves to be Johnny Pokia. a native planter who is my nearest neighbour. The white vest and scarlet pareu set off his muscular figure as our bifurcated garments never could, and one wonders anew at the narrow ignorance of the missionaries who introduced and insisted on European clothing.

“Haeremai, Johnnie! Metaké?” and his wonderful teeth flash as he comes up and takes a seat on the steps.

“You goin’ pickshurs to-night?”

I had forgotten that it was picture night, and had looked forward to a quiet evening. Still –

“Good picture you think. John?”

“Yes. Charlie Brown tellin’ me gooood pickshu. Plen-ty fight’n!”

“You going John?”

“I dunno. What you t’ink?”

The troubled look on John’s face is explained. Alas. a lack of the needful has kept others from their heart’s desire ere this!

“All right. I’ll come. Go and get dressed and tell your boy and girl they can come too.”

Johnnie’s gloom vanishes as if by magic. As he turns away and as I rise to go in to change (for I, too. wear vest and pareu in my isolated home). there is a faint distant throbbing in the air which gradually draws nearer and nearer until the headlights of a big lorry appear round a point.

This brings Charlie Brown with the projector and films from his plantation home near Arorangi and the throbbing emanates from a number of his “boys” clustered on the tail of the car who beat a drumming advertisement along the route that this is picture night. Their instruments are crude – an empty kerosene tin, two or three sections of hollowed log. and a bass drum, but the effect is surprising. First a rattling roll on the tin, then the logs take it up, the tin stops and a single drummer beats time on a hollow bamboo. Suddenly the others join in with a crash in marvellous time and the lorry thunders past my wharé to the accompaniment of a rolling, throbbing, reverberating roar that gets into the blood as does no other instrument but the pipes.

As I go in to change I concur with the writer who said that every South Sea native appeared to have swallowed a metronome.

In a few minutes I am ready – island toilets are not elaborate – and there comes a timid knock at the door. It is John’s small girl who brings me a crown of flowers to wear. As this custom is not commercialised here as in the larger islands of Hawaii and Tahiti. it is still a sign of friendship and esteem, so I am proud to wear it. It is composed of the waxen tiaré maori interspersed with the scented pits of pineapple rind and red berries from the “bush,” cut in spirals which dangle down at the sides.

John appears in a smart white duck suit and white canvas shoes and we start off down the sandy road, the kids racing on ahead to ensure good places for themselves.

There is a young moon, just sufficient to silhouette the tall coco-palms that border the road, turning their spreading fronds to studies in black and silver, and as we look up we see ever and anon the flittering shape of “mor kiri-kiri,” the flying fox.

As we come into the village we enter an arch of flamboyant trees. which are now in full bloom. and the road is carpeted with their scarlet flowers. The neat concrete houses bordering the road are almost lost in their bowers of flowering shrubs hibiscus of all colours, roses, tiaré maori, and gardenia grow like weeds in the rich soil. and the houses themselves are half smothered in masses of alamanda and bougainvillea. Gradually the road is filled with natives bound for the picture house. the men in whites or blue denims; the women in flowing “Mother Hubbards” of muslin.

After a walk of nearly a mile we reach the grassy plot beside the tin shed which forms our local picture palace. We are late. but Charlie Brown does not consider the audience sufficiently large yet, so blows several loud blasts on his whistle to warn stragglers that the show is about to commence, and the “band” strikes up anew. Curious to watch the crowd as the stirring rattle gets into their veins – many of them find it too much for them and do little impromptu shuffles as they stand talking in groups. Suddenly there is a burst of laughter and applause as a little man in white vest and dungarees with an enormous hibiscus flower over his ear leaps into the space near the drummers and goes through the knee-bending, wriggling motions of a hula. A barrow laden with fruit pasties and huge slabs of water-melon does a brisk trade with the waiting crowd.

Charlie Brown comes across to pass the time of day, and gives us an inkling of the pictorial treat in store. He looks round, considers that the crowd is now large enough, and blows a long blast on his whistle. The drums die away after a final tattoo and we file in and take our places. The front benches are packed with a mob of chattering kiddies so John and I take our places well to the rear under the projector. Next to me is the charming wife of a neighbouring planter with her daughter who is home from her New Zealand boarding school for the holidays. In front of me is one of the real “old-timers” who came here years ago, before the mast of a wind-jammer and found the island lure too much for him. He has a little store in the village, but knows that there will be no trade while the shows lasts.

The chief picture to-night is a Pearl White serial, “The House of Hate,” and provides enough strenuous action to satisfy even the present audience. Dark Tony Moreno, always a great favourite with the natives, is the hero, and his timely rescues of the fair lady stir the excited crowd to frenzy. When he is embroiled in a “rough house” with the villain’s myrmidons, the audience rises and yells encouragement.

The natives cannot, of course, read the captions. so Charlie Brown keeps up a running fire of explanation. One suspects that he does not keep much to the text. and from the chuckles and roars that greet his witty sallies, and the point-blank refusal of the lady beside me to translate some of his jokes it is to be feared that much of his talk is distinctly Rabelaisian in character.

The episode from the serial draws to an end, and the Impresario announces that there will be a further instalment next week. Follows a short interval in which we go out for a breath of fresh air.

John presents me with a big slice of water melon, which is thirst-quenching and refreshing, and takes the place of the whisky and soda of more civilised lands.

The whistle blows and we once more take our seats. The next film is a mystery picture featuring a man who has invented a cloak which renders the wearer invisible, and is tremendously popular with the crowd, who love anything that savours of “mana-mana!”

There are many thrills in the picture, but they affect the audience in a different way. Instead of the ear-shattering roar which acclaimed the fights, the mysterious vanishments are greeted with long-drawn gasping “A-h-h-s” of excitement. One remembers some of the old fairy tale pictures with their suddenly appearing djinns and melons that become coaches in the twinkling of an eye. What excitement they would create here!

The show comes to an end at last and the crowd disperses chattering like daws about the night’s thrills. The planter’s wife and daughter are offered a lift on the lorry, which passes their home, so we bid them good-night and wander home along the beautiful road. John is busy discussing the picture with friends, so I hurry and overtake the young daughter of my nearest white neighbours, who has been to the show in care of a native lady. The moon has disappeared, but it is a wonderful night of stars and the cool refreshing breeze is grateful after the somewhat close atmosphere we have left.

We discuss “Shakespeare and the musical glasses” until my little home is reached, the lass goes on with her friends and I wait at the gate set in the tall hedge of mock-coffee until John comes up. This is a “dry” island, so we go in and have a couple of glasses of home-brewed orange beer, and my guest takes his leave with many expressions of thanks and as a parting gift insists that I accept the half of a fruit pastie he has bought at the barrow and is taking home to his vahine. She, too, is a “movie fan,” but, alas, the duties devolving upon a newly-arrived piccaninny keep her at home for the present.

I go round to the back of the house to investigate the cause of a rattling noise and find that a big heady-eyed hermit crab has somehow got into my rubbish bucket and cannot get out. The varmint shows no signs of alarm in the ray of my electric torch, but sits up and waves his black glistening claws at me menacingly. I pick him up by his “house” gingerly – no fun to get a nip from his claws, which are capable of breaking a finger – and heave him away towards his home under the purau trees that fringe the beach. The soft lap-lap of ripples on the white coral sand of the lagoon catches my cars. Shall I? The night seems too wonderful for bed. In a few seconds I am on my ‘way to the calm water of the lagoon, a pareu knotted round my middle. The next half hour is spent swimming lazily about or floating in a water so buoyant that it is almost impossible to sink, until I find I am nearly asleep. A run home across the grass, a quick shower under the bathroom tap, and so to bed. As I put out the lamp and turn in, the palms and trees rustle as though the night had turned over in its sleep. and the distant harmonies of a “himene” drift down the village.

So ends another happy island day. Can a man be more than happy?

Comments: The film show described here took pace on the island of Rarotonga in the Cook Islands. The racial language used is only typical of its period. The 20-episode serial The House of Hate (USA 1918) starred Pearl White and Antonio Moreno. I have not been able to identify what the mystery film with the invisibility theme might be. My thanks to Carol O’Sullivan for having drawn this article to my attention.

Links: Copy at Paper Past

Haunted Hoxton

The Pepper’s Ghost illusion at the Polytechnic, 1863, (the same year as the Britannia Theatre play), from Illustrated London News

Source: Edmund Yates, ‘Haunted Hoxton’, All the Year Round, 27 June 1863, vol. 9 no. 218, pp. 420-424

Text: At last my guilty wishes are fulfilled! At last I am enabled to look back into the past, and think that one great object of my life has been realised, for I have seen a GHOST! Shade of (ah! by the way, I forget the name of the shade, and I’ve left the document which could inform me in my overcoat-pocket! never mind!) sacred shade, who appeared simultaneously to me and to some hundreds of entranced people, thou hast, so far as I am concerned, set the vexed question of apparitions at rest for ever. My interest in the ghost subject has been intense. I have read every story bearing upon it, and worked myself up to a delightful pitch of agonised excitement. Alone, and in the dead of night, do I peruse the precious volumes: the mere fact of the scene being laid in “an old castle in the Black Forest,” gives me a pleasing sensation of terror; when the student seated alone in the tapestried room finds “the lights begin to burn with a blue and spectral hue,” I shake; when there “reverberates through the long passages a dismal clanking of chains,” I shiver; finally, when “the door bursts open with a tremendous crash,” and there enters “a tall figure clothed in white, with one clot of gore immediately below its heart,” I am in a state of transcendent bliss, and only long to have been in the student’s place. Some years ago I thought I had a chance of realising my hopes. I read a book called, I think, The Nightgown of Nature, the author of which announced that he—or she— was thoroughly well acquainted with several houses where spectres appeared nightly with unexampled punctuality—houses “within a convenient distance from London, and accessible by rail,” as house-agents say—and I wrote to him—or her— for the address of one of these houses, stating that I intended to pass a night there. He—or she—replied that though his—or her—statement was thoroughly correct, he—or she— must decline giving the address of any particular house, as such a course would be detrimental to the value of the property, and might render him—or her— liable to an action at law on the part of the landlord. So I was disappointed.

I heard, however, the other day, that a real ghost, real as to its unreality, its impalpability, its visionary nothingness, was to be seen in a remote and unknown region called Hoxton, I had previously heard that the same, or a similar spectre, haunted Regent-street, but I laughed at the notion. Regent-street! with the French boot-shop, and the ice-making man, and the Indian pickle depôt opposite! A ghost in juxtaposition to electrical machines, a diver who raps his helmet with halfpence, and the awful insects in the drop of water! But Hoxton—there was something ghostly in the very name, and the place itself was as unfamiliar to me as Tierra del Fuego. Nobody to whom I spoke knew anything about it; they “had heard the name;” it was “somewhere out north,” they thought. Ah! in an instant my fancy sketches the spot. A quaint old suburb, where the railway has not yet penetrated, where sleepy cows chew the cud of peace in quiet meadows, where ploughmen whistle o’er the lea (whatever that may happen to mean), where huge elms yet stand waving their giant limbs before square red brick mansions. One of these mansions for years untenanted, roofless, dismantled, a murder was committed in it years ago: an old man with silver hair, a spendthrift nephew, a box of gold, a carving knife, a well in garden where weapon is discovered years afterwards, a wailing cry at twelve P.M., a tottering figure wringing its hands—yes, that must be it, or something very like it! I determined to go to Hoxton that night.

There was no railway—so far I was right—and I went to my destination in a cab. After a little time I found we were striking out of the great thoroughfares of commerce into narrow by-lanes, where a more pastoral style of living prevailed, where fried fish of a leathery appearance lay in tangled heaps on the slabs of windowless fish- shops, where jocund butchers, seemingly on the best terms with their customers, kept up a perpetual chorus of “Buy, buy!” and slapped the meat before them with a carving knife and a gusto that together seemed to give quite an appetite to the hesitating purchaser. We passed several graveyards deep set in the midst of houses—dank, frouzy, rank, run-to-seed places, where Pelions of “Sacred to the memory” were heaped upon Ossas of “Here lieth the remains,” and out of which the lank sapless grass trembled through the railings and nodded feebly at the passers-by. Good places for ghosts these! City ghosts of misers and confidential clerks, and trustees who committed suicide just before the young gentleman whom they had had in trust came of age, and would have infallibly found out all about their iniquities. I peered out of the cab in quest of any chance apparition, but saw none, and was very much astonished when the driver, to whom I had given particular instructions, pulled up before a brilliantly lighted doorway, round which several cadgers were disporting themselves. These youths received me with great delight, and one said, “You come along with me, sir! I’ll take you to the hout and houtest old spectre in the neighbr’ood. This way, sir!” He led the way along a lighted passage, between rough brick walls, until we arrived at a barrier, where—after a muttered conversation between my guide and the janitor—a shilling was demanded of me, after paying which I was provided with a card talisman and left to find my way alone. Down a broad passage on one side of which was a recess where sandwiches lay piled like deals in a timber-yard, where oranges were rolled up in pyramidal heaps of three feet high, and where there was so much ginger-beer that its simultaneous explosion must infallibly have blown the roof off the building, down a flight of asphalted stairs, at the bottom of which a fierce man wrung my card talisman from me and turned me into a large loose box, the door of which he shut behind me. A loose box with a couple of chairs in it, a looking-glass, a flap table—a loose box open on one side, looking through which opening I see hundreds of people ranged in tiers above each other. Turning to see what they are all intent on, I see a stage—I’m tricked! I’m done! the loose box is a private box, and I’m in a theatre.

Left to myself, what could I do but look at the stage, and, doing that, how could I fail to be intensely interested? I speedily made myself acquainted with the legend being there theatrically developed, and, beyond that the colour was, perhaps, a little heightened, I did not find it more or less preposterously unlike anything that could, by any remote possibility, ever have occurred than is usual in dramatic legends. The scene of action being laid at the present time, I found the principal character represented to be a BARONET (he had a name, but he was invariably spoken of by everybody, either with yells of hatred or shoulder-shrugs of irony, as “the Baronet”), and certainly he was the most objectionable old gentleman I have ever seen. The mere fact of his walking about, in the present day, in a long claret coloured coat, a low crowned hat with a buckle in the front, and boots which, being apparently made of sticking- plaster, had tassels like bell-pulls, was in itself irritating; but his moral conduct was horrible. He seemed to have an insane desire for the possession of his neighbours’ property, not felonious in his intentions, but imbued with a buying mania, and rabidly ferocious when said neighbours refused to sell. First among his coveted possessions stood the house and garden of a clergyman’s widow (no mistake about her widowhood! the deepest black, and such a cap, all through the piece!), who obstinately refused to part with an inch of her ground. Baronet smiles blandly, and informs us that he will “have recourse to stratyjum.” Widow has two daughters, one very deep-voiced and glum, the other with her hair parted on one side (which, theatrically, always means good nature), and funny. Funny daughter is beloved by Baronet’s son—unpleasant youth in cords, top-boots, and a white hat, made up after Tom King the highwayman, vide Turpin’s Ride to York; or, The Death of Black Bess (Marks, Seven Dials), passim. Baronet proposes that son should get clergyman’s daughter to steal lease of premises, promising to set son up in life, and allow him to marry object of affections. Son agrees, works upon daughter’s vanity; daughter, who is vague in Debrett, is overcome by notion of being called the Right Honourable Mrs.——, a title which, as the wife of a baronet’s son, she is clearly entitled to—steals the lease, hands it to son, who hands it to Baronet, who, having got it, nobly repudiates not merely the whole transaction, but son into the bargain: tells him he is not son, but merely strange child left in his care, and comes down and winks at audience, who howl at him with rage.

That was the most wonderful thing throughout the evening, the contest between the audience and the Baronet. Whenever the Baronet made a successful move (and Vice had it all its own way for nearly a couple of hours), the audience howled and raved against him, called “Yah!” whistled, shrieked, and hooted, and the Baronet advanced to the footlights and grinned across them, as though he should say, “I’m still all right in spite of you!” When a villain who, for a sum of money advanced by the Baronet, had murdered an old man, and was afterwards seized with remorse, stole the lease from the Baronet’s pocket, the multitude in the theatre cheered vociferously; but the Baronet, after proving that the purloined parchment was only a copy, and not the original document, which he still retained, calmly walked down to the front of the stage, and literally winked at the people, tapping his breast, where the lease was, in derision, and goading the audience to the extremity of frenzy.

There were several pleasant episodes in which the Baronet was the mainspring: hiding fifty-pound notes in the glum sister’s bundle, accusing her of robbery, and having her locked up in his house, whence she was rescued by the murdering villain who had previously (out of remorse) set the house on fire; but at length the widow, who a minute before had been remarkably lively, and had “given it” to the Baronet with great vehemence and cap-shaking, suddenly declared her intention of dying, and though a young gentleman with a sugarloaf hat and a coat with a little cape to it, like the pictures of Robespierre, announced himself as a lawyer, who would defend her and hers against anything and everybody, she forthwith carried out her intention, sat down on a chair, and died, out of hand. There was a faint pretext of sending for the doctor, but there was an evident fear on the part of most lest that practitioner should really restore the patient, and thus burk the great effect of the piece, so the idea was overruled, and the Baronet, advancing to the footlights, rubbed his hands in derision at the audience, and the audience, cognisant of the fact that the decease of the widow was necessary to the subsequent appearance of her ghost, merely answered with a subdued “Yah!” At this point my former conductor opened the box-door and beckoned me out. “Come in front,” he said; “it’s ghost time!” The words thrilled to my very soul, I followed him in silence, and took my place in the boxes, close by a lady whose time was principally occupied in giving natural sustenance to her infant, and an older female, apparently the child’s grandmother, who was a victim to a disease which I believe is popularly known as the “rickets,” and which impelled her at three-minute intervals to shudder throughout her frame, to rock herself to and fro, to stuff the carved and hooked black bone handle of an umbrella, that looked like a tied-up lettuce, into her mouth, and to grind out from between her teeth, clenched round the umbrella-handle, “Oh, deary deary me!” On my other side were a youth and maiden, so devoted to each other that they never perceived my entrance into the box, and I had not merely to shout, but to shove, before I could effect a passage, when there was such a disentanglement of waists from arms, and interlaced hot hands, and lifting of heads from shoulders, that I felt uncomfortable and apologetic, whereas the real offenders speedily fell back into their old position, and evidently regarded me as a Byronic creature, to whom life was a blank.

The ghost did not appear at once. Though the widow had slipped into a very stiff position in her chair, and everybody around her had said either “Ha!” or “The fatal moment!” or “Alas!” or “All is over!” as their several tastes led them, it was thought necessary to make the fact of her death yet more clear, so upon the front parlour, where the sad occurrence took place, fell a vast body of clouds of the densest kind, out of which, to slow music, there came two or three ethereal persons with wings, which wagged in a suspicious manner, bearing the widow’s body “aloft,” as Mr. Dibdin has it with reference to Tom Bowling, and thereby copying in the most direct and unequivocal manner (but not more directly and unequivocally than I have seen it in theatres of grand repute, where critics babbled of the manager’s transcendent stage- direction) Herr Lessing’s picture of Leonore. To meet these, emerged, in midair from either side of the stage, other ethereal persons, also with wings, whose intended serenity of expression was greatly marred by the obstinacy of the machinery, which propelled them in severe jerks, at every one of which the set smile on their faces faded into a mingled expression of acute bodily pain and awful terror lest they should fall down: while, on a string like larks, or a rope like onions, there swayed to and fro across the proscenium, a dozen of the stoutest and most unimaginative naked Cupids that ever got loose from a valentine, or were made by a property- man.

As the act-drop fell upon this scene, which in itself represented something not to be met with in everyday life, some distrust was expressed in my neighbourhood lest there should be nothing more ghostly than we had just witnessed, but the old lady with the umbrella set us to rights by recovering suddenly from a severe attack of rickets, and exclaiming, “Them ghosts! Oh no, sir! In the next act we shall see her, and which the music will play up for us to give attention.” So accordingly, when the fiddles wailed, and the trombone and clarionet prostrated themselves figuratively in the dust, I looked with all my eyes, and saw the curtain rise upon the Baronet’s apartment, which was the most singularly constructed room I ever beheld. The portion of the floor nearest to us was perfectly flat, as is the case with most floors, but after about three feet of flatness there rose in its centre, and stretching from side to side, a long, sloping, green mound, in military language a “glacis,” up which the Baronet had to walk when he wanted to proceed towards the back of the apartment, where all the chairs, tables, and furniture generally had withdrawn themselves, and up which he himself climbed, as though M. Vauban had taken the place of Mr. Cubitt, and as though outworks and entrenchments were as common in London drawing-rooms as lounging-chairs and grand pianos.

On the top of this entrenchment stood, on either side, two thick dumpy pillars, supporting a heavy piece of masonry, which joined them together at the top, and which looked like a portion of the ruins of the Temple of the Sun at Baalbek seen through the wrong end of the opera-glass: or, to use an illustration nearer home, like the front of the catacombs of Kensal- green or Highgate cemeteries. Between these pillars was a hazy vista into which the Baronet walked, and seating himself on a stool in the corner, so as to be quite out of the way, commenced informing us (without any apparent necessity for the statement) of his disbelief in all supernatural appearances, and of his thorough contempt for Death—ha! ha! The second of the two vocal double-knocks given by him in ha! ha! had scarcely been given, when there appeared in the middle of the empty space behind the pillars a stereoscopic skeleton exactly like that which dances in the Fantoccini—so like, that one looked for the string which guides that puppet’s movements (and which, of course, in the present instance, was not to be seen), and expected him momentarily to fall to pieces and re-unite in a comic manner. At this sight the Baronet appeared a little staggered; he said, “Ha! do I then behold thee?” and retreated several paces on his heels, but recovering himself, exclaimed, “‘Tis a dream, an ill-yousion!” and advanced towards the skeleton, which disappeared, to return immediately armed with a dart, or harpoon, with which it made several well-intentioned but harmless thrusts at the Baronet, who appeared immensely flabbergasted by the harpoon, and begged piteously to be spared. Either the skeleton was moved by the appeal or he had work somewhere else, for he disappeared again, and no sooner was he gone than the Baronet so plucked up that he declared he defied Death altogether, and was beginning to be offensively joyous, when in the place where the skeleton had been, appeared the ghost of the widow in her shroud! No mistake about it now! There she was, a little foreshortened, a little out of the perpendicular, leaning forward as though accustomed to a cramped and confined space, and not daring to stand upright! For the Baronet this was, to use a vulgar metaphor, a “corker.” He rubbed his head, but there was nothing there; he tried a taunt, but the ghost answered him with deep-voiced briskness; he rushed towards her, and rushed right through her! Finally, he picked up from the table, where, as we know, they always lay in libraries, a long sword, with which he aimed a very unskilful blow at his visitant. The sword passed through the ghost, who was apparently tickled, for it exclaimed, “Ha! ha!” and disapeared, and the Baronet fell exhausted in the very spot where the ghost had been! Up went the lights, down went the curtain, and the audience gave one great gasp of relief, and pretended they hadn’t been frightened—which they had!

Unquestionably! undoubtedly! The skeleton had been a failure; ribalds in the pit had mocked at him—had given tremulous cries of feigned terror—shouted “O-oh! m—y!” and pretended to bury their heads in their jacket-collars; boys in the gallery had called upon him to dance, and had invited their friends to “look at his crinoline;” the arm of the youth in front of me tightened round the waist of the maiden with evident conveyance of the idea that that alone could them part; and the old lady with the umbrella had considered him a “mangy lot.” But the ghost was a very different matter; when it appeared, not a sound in the pit, not a whisper in the gallery; all open-mouthed, eager, tremulous excitement! The old grandmother clasped the umbrella like a divining-rod, and muttered a hoarse “Deary—dea—ry me!” the mother let the infant fall flat and flaccid on her lap, the youth’s arm unbent, and the maiden, rising stiffly three inches from her seat, said, “Go’as!” and remained rigid. Only one sound floated on the air, and that was emitted by a French gentleman, with more buttons on his waistcoat than I ever saw on a similar amount of cloth (how on earth did a foreigner penetrate to Hoxton?), who clutched his curly-brimmed hat between his fat fists and hissed out, “A—h! Superbe!” It was his testimony and it is mine!

Comments: Edmund Hodgson Yates (1831-1894) was a British journalist and author. He was a good friend of Charles Dickens, to whose journal All the Year Round he was a regular contributor. Yates reports on a production of the play The Widow and the Orphans; or, Faith, Hope and Charity, by C.H. Hazelwood, which featured at the Britannia Theatre, Hoxton, London as a means to showcase the invention of ‘The Ghost’ or ‘Pepper’s Ghost’. This was an optical illusion invented by Henry Dircks and exploited professionally by John Henry Pepper – in which, by means of projected light and a hidden inclined sheet of glass, the reflection of a ghost-like figure could be made to materialise on a stage. It first featured in a stage production of Dickens’s novella The Haunted Man at the Royal Polytechnic on 24 December 1862. In The Widow and Orphans the ghost was played by Mary Henderson.

Links: Dickens Journals Online

A Journey Round the Globe

The interior of Wyld’s Great Globe, Illustrated London News, 7 June 1851, via Wikimedia Commons

Source: Anon., ‘A Journey Around the Globe’, Punch, or the London Charivari, vol. 21 (1851), pp. 4-5

Text: We did not even take a carpet-bag, or a tooth-brush, or a clean collar with us. All our luggage consisted of a walking-stick and a postage-stamp. The latter we parted with at the end of our journey, to acquaint our friends that we had been round the Globe in perfect safety.

We have our doubts whether ladies will approve much of this new style of travelling. It dispenses with everything in the shape of luggage.

Our only passport was a shilling. This passport is very convenient. It requires no viséing. No allusions are made in it to your eyes; no questions asked about your name, residence, or nose. You present your passport at the door; it is taken from you; and you never see it any more. We wish every passport was as easy to obtain, and as easy to get rid of.

We like traveling round the Globe. First of all, there is not a single turnpike on the road. There is no dust, nor any throwing of eggs nor flour, as on the journey from Epsom – and again, there are no beggars, as in Ireland, — no revolutions, as in France – no monks or mosquitos, as in Italy, – and no insults, as in America. It is as easy as going up stairs to dress, and coming down in to dinner.

The journey is made on foot. Young ladies who cannot travel anywhere but in their own carriage, must abandon all thoughts of travelling round the Globe. It is true, the journey might be made on horseback, but then the horse must be one of those “trained steeds” from ASTLEY’s, which are taught to run up ladders without missing a single step. The travelling, it must be confessed, is rather steep and resembles very much a journey up the Monument. This resemblance, however, arises entirely from the peculiar formation of the interior.

In this respect MR. WYLD has made a grand discovery. He satisfactorily proved that the interior of the Globe is not filled with gases, according to AGASSIZ; or with fire, according to BURNET; neither has he filled it, like FOURIER, with water, as if the Globe were nothing better than a globe of gold fish. No; MR. WYLD has lately shown us that the interior of the Globe is occupied by immense strata of staircases!

These staircases rise above one another, like the steps in the Duke of York’s Column. This new theory must make traveling remarkably easy for persons who are occupied all day long in running up and down stairs, and seems as if it had been purposely laid down for maids-of-all-work, or poor relations on a visit.

Our first flight through the Globe – that is to say, when we came to the first landing place – convinced us that the crust of the Earth very much resemble the crust of a beefsteak pie that had been considerably overbaked. The inequalities on the surface, where the mountains are supposed to rise, represented to our ingenious fancy the bumps caused by the potatoes slumbering below, whilst the cracks through which the rivers are imagined to roll, disclosed to our mind’s eye the crevices in the crust that sometimes display such tempting glimpses of the rich gravy that is flowing underneath.

This notion of the pie is not in the least overdone; for really the heat of the Globe is equal to that of any baker’s oven. We don’t wonder at this, when we observed at every turn that there were small jets of gas bursting out of the Earth, in a number almost sufficient to roast a prize ox at any of the ensuing elections. The combustion of these several gases raises the atmpsphere of the almost to boiling point; and we are confident that if any one, anticipating a long journey round the Earth, took his dinner with him, he could cook it on the spot, free of expense.

The most curious thing is, that the higher a person ascends in the World, the hotter it becomes for him; so that when he has reached the greatest elevation man can attain, he suddenly finds the World too hot to hold him, and is obliged to come down again with a run. This is a fine lesson of world ambition, which we experienced, for once, ourselves. We felt the heat so excessive, and, fancying the Arctic Regions must be of all regions the coldest in the World, we steamed our panting way up there; but, will it be believed? – accustomed as we are always to be at the top of the Pole – we could not stand the climate of early peas and pine-apples, that is almost at forcing-height in those icy districts; and we were compelled to run down stairs to the Tropics as fast as we could, in order to get cool again. It is lucky that there are parts of the Globe where a person can breathe with comfort, or else MR. WYLD would have made us regret that we had ever come into the World at all!

Exterior of the Great Globe, Illustrated London News 7 June 1851, via Wikimedia Commons

And of this we should have been profoundly sorry; for, to speak the truth, this World is a most beautiful one. It is most agreeable to stand in the centre of the Earth, and to see yourself surrounded by oceans and continents, – first, to, feast of a bit of land, and then to drink in with your eyes a whole Atlantic-full of water. Drink as much as you will, you cannot take all the water in. You dread lest the waters should close in around you, and swallow you up like a cork in the middle of a water-butt. You cling to the railings for support; but the sight of land cheers you the next moment. All the World is before you; you have only to choose where to go to. With a patriotic rush your eyes run to England, and you are wonder-struck at a country which occupies so large a space in the thoughts of the world, should take up so little room on the surface of it. England, that has filled so many leaves in the world’s history, is scarcely the size of a cabbage leaf; and London, which prides itself upon being the centre of civilisation, is not half so big as TOM THUMB’s nose.

The World, as has often been remarked by moralists before, is exceedingly hollow; but then, if it were not, we could never have seen it for one shilling. This is very lucky; for it has enabled MR. WYLD to present to us the Globe in the shape of a geographical globule, which the mind can, take in at one swallow. You see the comparative heights of all the mountains, and the comparative sizes of the different continents. Everything is measured to the nicety of a fashionable tailor; and we must say, that in no worldly quality do we admire MR. WYLD so much as in the moderation of his measurement. Most men when they are given an inch take an ell; but MR. WYLD, with a modesty that is beyond all measure, was given ten miles, and he has only taken an inch! – for that is the magic scale with which he has compressed volcanoes into a thimble, and condensed lakes into the size of a tea-cup!

Not only are the features of the different continents carefully portrayed but an attempt has also been made to give the face of each an individual complexion. For this purpose MR. WYLD has called in the assistance of MR. BEVERLEY, whose brush must now enjoy, if it did not before, a world-wide renown. Warm colours are given to warm climates – dead colours to barren districts — neutral colours to countries of which little is known; whilst a generous couleur de rose is thrown over those parts where the Sun of civilisation is supposed to shine the strongest. Here and there, you see glittering red points burning away like the tops of the lighted cigars that are made in chocolate. These are volcanic mountains, and the authority for painting them that colour, has been taken from the celebrated Mountain in the French Chambers, which we all know is excessively volcanic, and particularly Red.

The general effect is very curious. Here a country looks like an immense cabbage-leaf, flattened out, half green and half decayed, with an immense caterpillar crawling right over it, in the shape of a chain of mountains. There a country resembles an old piece of jagged leather hung up against the wall to dry, with large holes that have been moth-eaten out of it. On one side you will see a cluster of islands, like dead leaves on the water, whilst, opposite to it will be some large tract of land looking vesicated, with the rivers running close to one another, like the veins in an anatomical engraving. Above your head will be hanging an old rug, like Russia, looking half-burnt and half-blistered by live coals that had fallen upon it, whilst underneath your feet may be spread Africa, like an immense skin – in some parts red and tawny, like a lion’s — and in others a rich yellow, with beautiful black marks, like the stripes on a leopard’s back. Fancy these, and many hundred others, hung up, in monster frames with endless margins of blue-water, and you will have a vivid conception, though perhaps not a very picturesque one, of the Globe which WYLD has suspended, like a fine, suggestive, picture, on the wall, for us to look at. The great pity is, you cannot see the picture all at once. It is cut in two by the hideous stair case. But this may have been run up purposely to show us that “one half the Globe doesn’t know what the other half is doing.”

Comments: Wyld’s Great Globe was a panoramic entertainment built in the shape of a globe, which was exhibited in London’s Leicester Square 1851-1862. It was created by the British mapmaker and MP James Wyld (1812–1887). The Great Globe was hollow, with iron staircases and platforms enabling visitors to see the world’s surface displayed on the inside to a scale of 10 miles to the inch, in plaster of Paris. It was 60 ft 4 ins in diameter, and was contained within a building around 180 ft square with 20 ft walls and a domed roof. As Punch notes, the gas lighting, combined with the crowds, made the interior uncomfortably hot. The entrance price was a shilling, two shillings and sixpence on Thursdays and Saturdays. The exhibition was accompanied by hourly lectures, moving panoramas, and displays of cartographic equipment in adjoining galleries. The Great Globe, which opened on 2 June 1851, was a huge success in its first year of operation, boosted by crowds that came to London for the Great Exhibition. It remained in Leicester Square for another ten years, after which it was torn down. Mr. Beverley was William Roxby Beverley, a theatrical scene painter.

Links: Copy at Hathi Trust

A Democratic Art

Source: Anon., ‘A Democratic Art’, The Nation, vol. 97 no. 2513 (28 August 1913), p. 193

Text: If Tolstoy were alive to-day, it is not unlikely that he would find in the “movies” a close approximation to his ideal of art. A direct and universal appeal to the elementary emotions — that was the standard which Tolstoy held up in opposition to the exaggerations, the aberrations, and the obscurities of the Shakespeares, the Goethes, and Richard Wagners. The Russian’s ultimate test of a work of art was its appeal to the untutored but unspoiled peasant. The cinematograph meets this test completely. The Russian mujik is under the spell of the films. India’s millions are deserting the story-tellers and the jugglers of the bazaar for the moving-picture shows. China, Peru, and Washington Heights have succumbed to the photo-play. All nations, all ages, all classes, both sexes — it is inconceivable how art can be more popular than that.

But the moving-picture show is something more than popular. It is intimate. To an extraordinary extent it is entering into the daily thought of the masses. The good men and women who are fond of writing on literature and life, who are devoting themselves to the task of bringing the drama into touch with the life of the people, must be amazed, and slightly chagrined, at the intensity with which the film-play has seized upon the popular imagination. The crowds not only throng to the shows; they talk about them, on street corners, in the cars, and over the hoods of baby carriages. From time to time there have been plays in the regular theatre which have become the theme of general discussion. There have been players whom the public has made its favorites. But the theatre as an institution has hardly impressed itself upon the popular mind in this country. A show was either good or bad, and there it ended with the ordinary theatre-goer. The technique of the theatre was a subject for professionals and “high-brows.” But the crowd discusses the technique of the moving-picture theatre with as much interest as literary salons in Paris or London discuss the minutiae of the higher drama. The crowd knows how the films are made, and what it costs to make them, and who the leading actors in the show are. The producers of these shows have achieved an extraordinary triumph. They have converted their entire audience into first-nighters.

The interest of the masses in the moving-picture show is even more personal than that. They are not only spectators and critics, but to a very considerable extent they are the authors. Everybody is writing moving-picture scenarios. In part it may have been a real dearth of ideas which induced the film-producers to appeal for contributions to the nation at large. In part it may be excellent business to inoculate the audiences, not excluding children of the grammar grades, with the virus of authorship. The regular theatre draws a not inconsiderable part of its revenue from “students” of the drama who go to the theatre in order to learn how to write plays. The number of those thus directly interested in the moving-picture plays must be enormous. In a very real sense the photo-play then becomes a truly popular art. The operatic composer will strive to give reality — and popularity — to his music by incorporating folk-themes into his score. To the extent that the music of the masses enters into the finished product the composer‘s art is a popular art. The moving-picture showman goes much further than the composer can go by throwing upon the screen the very ideas supplied him by the crowd in the seats.

It is not a very high art, this art of the photo-play as created for the masses and largely by them. The authors of the benches reveal the common predilection of the popular taste for the lurid and the fantastic. But in this the moving-picture show merely takes the place of the old-fashioned melodrama. And it has the added advantage of realism. The setting of the photo-play is incomparably more real than anything even a Belasco can give us. It reproduces action in real deserts, on real oceans, in real forests. The heroine walks out of a very actual cottage, down actual steps, and takes a perfectly authentic trolley car to a real department store. The audience knows that these things and the trees, rocks, bridges, boats, and guns are absolutely true to life, because it has often seen the man with the camera at work. To watch one of these exhibitions is like seeing an animated popular magazine without the labor of turning the pages. And like the picture magazine it requires no thought and little attention.

Comments: The Nation was, and continues to be, a leading progressive American journal. Invitations to submit ideas for film scenarios were not uncommon at this time, from the smaller film concerns, and publications on how to write film scripts were legion – though it is doubtful that many, if any, of those who read such books ever produced something that a film company would have accepted. David Belasco was an American theatre producer renowned for the naturalistic effects employed in his stage productions.

Links: Copy at Hathi Trust

Television Starts – Where Will It End?

Source: Anon., ‘Television Starts – Where Will It End? “Era” Special’, The Era, 4 November 1936, p. 1

Text: Television for domestic purposes is like a home movie with sound. In a typical Baird receiver the images are thrown on to a mirror about the size of a woman‘s handkerchief.

They are brilliant miniatures, especially when a film is being used, and there is a slight suggestion of eye-strain at this stage. The images behave unexpectedly, as did the early films, but are surprisingly free from atmospheric interference, though the coil ignition systems of passing cars are liable to throw a few flashes on the mirror.

Lord Selsdon, who, in presence and manner, to say nothing of experience, seems cut out to be a Television star, made the important announcement at the opening ceremony last Monday, that people who bought receiving sets now could be assured that there would be no radical change in receiving sets for at least two years, and that the effective range of the Alexandra Palace station was twenty miles, with local variations that might reach much further.

The price of the Baird Television set, manufactured by Bush Radio, on which we saw the demonstration, is 85 guineas.

There is a population of 10,000,000 within the area covered by the Alexandra Palace station, equal to, say, 2,500,000 families. If only one family in a hundred purchases a set of some kind, there is obviously a considerable immediate market for the new attraction.

It will be a tremendous boon to such aspects of broadcast entertainment as “Music Hall,” travel interludes, the news bulletins, and “In Town To-night” – simple, direct things – but it is unlikely, at first to affect the course of radio drama.

Its power, as a rival attraction to other entertainments, depends largely on the amount of money spent on it, and it would appear that the B.B.C. has already pawned its shirt to provide the not very elaborate entertainment now being broadcast from the Alexandra Palace.

We are unable to see that Television increases the menace of radio as a rival to existing forms of entertainment, though it may do something to arrest the decline in the entertainment appeal of radio.

Television calls for so much fixation of attention that an hour at a time is likely to be the limit of the average man’s endurance.

On the whole, it seems to us that the entertainment professions should congratulate themselves on the birth of an entertainment from which they will be able to extract substantial fees, leaving Posterity to decide whether Television is to be a comprehensive umbrella for all forms of entertainment.

Comments: The first regular BBC television series began on 2 November 1936, broadcast from Alexandra Palace in London. Irregular experimental transmissions had taken place since 1929. The regular service alternated for its first six months between the Baird mechanical 240-line system and the EMI-Marconi electronic 450-line system, before the BBC elected to continue with the latter. The first programmes were Opening of the BBC Television Service, a British Movietone News newsreel, a variety programme headed by Adele Dixon, shown 15:00-16:00, followed by Television Comes to London, Picture Page and another Movietone newsreel, shown 21:00-22:00. The Era was a journal for the theatrical business, hence its particular take on television and radio.

Some Account of an Extraordinary Traveller

Source: Charles Dickens, ‘Some Account of an Extraordinary Traveller’, Household Words, 20 April 1850, pp. 73-77

Text: No longer ago than this Easter time last past, we became acquainted with the subject of the present notice. Our knowledge of him is not by any means an intimate one, and is only of a public nature. We have never interchanged any conversation with him, except on one occasion when he asked us to have the goodness to take off our hat, to which we replied ‘Certainly.’

Mr. Booley was born (we believe) in Rood Lane, in the City of London. He is now a gentleman advanced in life, and has for some years resided in the neighbourhood of Islington. His father was a wholesale grocer (perhaps) and he was (possibly) in the same way of business; or he may, at an early age, have become a clerk in the Bank of England or in a private hank, or in the India House. It will he observed that we make no pretence of having any information in reference to the private history of this remarkable man, and that our account of it must be received as rather speculative than authentic.

In person Mr. Booley is below the middle size, and corpulent. His countenance is florid, he is perfectly bald, and soon hot; and there is a composure in his gait and manner, calculated to impress a stranger with the idea of his being, on the whole, an unwieldy man. It is only in his eye that the adventurous character of Mr. Booley is seen to shine. It is a moist, bright eye, of a cheerful expression, and indicative of keen and eager curiosity.

It was not until late in life that Mr. Booley conceived the idea of entering on the extraordinary amount of travel be has since accomplished. He had attained the age of sixty-five before be left England for the first time. In all the immense journeys he has since performed, he has never laid aside the English dress, nor departed in the slightest degree from English customs. Neither does he speak a word of any language but his own.

Mr. Booley’s powers of endurance are wonderful. All climates are alike to him. Nothing exhausts him; no alternations of heat and cold appear to have the least effect upon his hardy frame. His capacity of travelling, day and night, for thousands of miles, has never been approached by any traveller of whom we have any knowledge through the help of books. An intelligent Englishman may have occasionally pointed out to him objects and scenes of interest; but otherwise he has travelled alone and unattended. Though remarkable for personal cleanliness, he has carried no luggage; and his diet has been of the simplest kind. He has often found a biscuit, or a bun, sufficient for his support over a vast tract of country. Frequently he has travelled hundreds of miles, fasting, without the least abatement of his natural spirits. It says much for the Total Abstinence cause, that Mr. Booley has never had recourse to the artificial stimulus of alcohol, to sustain him under his fatigues.

His first departure from the sedentary and monotonous life he had hitherto led, strikingly exemplifies, we think, the energetic character, long suppressed by that unchanging routine. Without any communication with any member of his family – Mr. Booley has never been married, but has many relations – without announcing his intention to his solicitor, or banker, or any person entrusted with the management of his affairs, he closed the door of his house behind him at one o’clock in the afternoon of a certain day, and immediately proceeded to New Orleans, in the United States of America.

His intention was to ascend the Mississippi and Missouri rivers, to the base of the Rocky Mountains. Taking his passage in a steamboat without loss of time, he was soon upon the bosom of the Father of Waters, as the Indians call the mighty stream which, night and day, is always carrying huge instalments of the vast continent of the New World down into the sea.

Mr. Booley found it singularly interesting to observe the various stages of civilisation obtaining on the banks of these mighty rivers. Leaving the luxury and brightness of New Orleans – a somewhat feverish luxury and brightness, he observed, as if the swampy soil were too much enriched in the hot sun with the bodies of dead slaves – and passing various towns in every stage of progress, it was very curious to observe the changes of civilisation and of vegetation too. Here, while the doomed negro race were working in the plantations, while the republican overseer looked on, whip in hand, tropical trees were growing, beautiful flowers in bloom; the alligator, with his horribly sly face, and his jaws like two great saws, was basking on the mud; and the strange moss of the country was hanging in wreaths and garlands on the trees, like votive offerings. A little farther towards the west, and the trees and flowers were changed, the moss was gone, younger infant towns were rising, forests were slowly disappearing, and the trees, obliged to aid in the destruction of their kind, fed the heavily-breathing monster that came clanking up those solitudes laden with the pioneers of the advancing human army. The river itself, that moving highway, showed him every kind of floating contrivance, from the lumbering flat-bottomed boat, and the raft of logs, upward to the steamboat, and downward to the poor Indian’s frail canoe. A winding thread through the enormous range of country, unrolling itself before the wanderer like the magic skein in the story, he saw it tracked by wanderers of every kind, roaming from the more settled world, to those first nests of men. The floating theatre, dwelling-house, hotel, museum, shop; the floating mechanism for screwing the trunks of mighty trees out of the mud, like antediluvian teeth; the rapidly-flowing river, mid the blazing woods; he left them all behind – town, city, and log-cabin, too; and floated up into the prairies and savannahs, among the deserted lodges of tribes of savages, and among their dead, lying alone on little wooden stages with their stark faces upward towards the sky. Among the blazing grass, and herds of buffaloes and wild horses, and among the wigwams of the fast-declining Indians, he began to consider how, in the eternal current. of progress setting across this globe in one unchangeable direction, like the unseen agency that points the needle to the Pole, the Chiefs who only dance the dances of their fathers, and will never have a new figure for a new tune, and the Medicine men who know no Medicine but what was Medicine a hundred years ago, must be surely and inevitably swept from the earth, whether they be Choctawas, Maudans, Britons, Austrians, or Chinese.

He was struck, too, by the reflection that savage nature was not by any means such a fine and noble spectacle as some delight to represent it. He found it a poor, greasy, paint-plastered miserable thing enough; but a very little way above the beasts in most respects; in many customs a long way below them. It occurred to him that the ‘Big Bird,’ or the ‘Blue Fish,’ or any of the other Braves, was but a troublesome braggart after all; making a mighty whooping and halloaing about nothing particular, doing very little for science, not much more than the monkeys for art, scarcely anything worth mentioning for letters, and not often making the world greatly better than he found it. Civilisation, Mr. Booley concluded, was, on the whole, with all its blemishes, a more imposing sight, and a far better thing to stand by.

Mr. Booley’s observations of the celestial bodies, on this voyage, were principally confined to the discovery of the alarming fact that light had altogether departed from the moon; which presented the appearance of a white dinner-plate The clouds, too, conducted themselves in an extraordinary manner, and assumed the most eccentric forms, while the sun rose and set in a very reckless way. On his return to his native country, however, he had the satisfaction of finding all these things as usual.

It might have been expected that at his advanced age, retired from the active duties of life, blessed with a competency, and happy in the affections of his numerous relations, Mr. Booley would now have settled himself down, to muse, for the remainder of his days, over the new stock of experience thus acquired. But travel had whetted, not satisfied, his appetite; and remembering that he had not seen the Ohio River, except at the point of its junction with the Mississippi, he returned to the United States, after a short interval of repose, and appearing suddenly at Cincinnati, the queen City of the West, traversed the clear waters of the Ohio to its Falls. In this expedition he had the pleasure of encountering a party of intelligent workmen from Birmingham who were making the same tour. Also his nephew Septimus, aged only thirteen. This intrepid boy had started from Peckham, in the old country, with two and sixpence sterling in his pocket; and had, when he encountered his uncle at a point of the Ohio River, called Snaggy Bar, still one shilling of that sum remaining!

Again at home, Mr. Booley was so pressed by his appetite for knowledge as to remain at home only one day. At the expiration of that short period, he actually started for New Zealand.

It is almost incredible that a man in Mr. Booley’s station of life, however adventurous his nature, and however few his artificial wants, should cast himself on a voyage of thirteen thousand miles from Great Britain with no other outfit than his watch and purse, and no arms but his walking-stick. We are, however, assured on the best authority, that thus he made the passage out, and thus appeared, in the act of wiping his smoking head with his pocket-handkerchief, at the entrance to Port Nicholson in Cook’s Straits: with the very spot within his range of vision, where his illustrious predecessor, Captain Cook, so unhappily slain at Otaheite, once anchored.

After contemplating the swarms of cattle maintained on the hills in this neighbourhood, and always to be found by the stockmen when they are wanted, though nobody takes any care of them – which Mr. Booley considered the more remarkable, as their natural objection to be killed might be supposed to be augmented by the beauty of the climate – Mr. Booley proceeded to the town of Wellington. Having minutely examined it in every point, and made himself perfect master of the whole natural history and process of manufacture of the flax-plant, with its splendid yellow blossoms, he repaired to a Native Pa, which, unlike the Native Pa to which he was accustomed, he found to be a town, and not a parent. Here he observed a chief with a long spear, making every demonstration of spitting a visitor, but really giving him the Maori or welcome – a word Mr. Booley is inclined to derive from the known hospitality of our English Mayors – and here also he observed some Europeans rubbing noses, by way of shaking hands, with the aboriginal inhabitants. After participating in an affray between the natives and the English soldiers, in which the former were defeated with great loss, he plunged into the Bush, and there camped out for some months, until he had made a survey of the whole country.

While leading this wild life, encamped by night near a stream for the convenience of water in a Ware, or lint, built open in the front, with a roof sloping backward to the ground, and made of poles, covered and enclosed with bark or fern, it was Mr. Booley’s singular fortune to encounter Miss Creeble, of The Misses Creeble’s Boarding and Day Establishment for Young Ladies, Kennington Oval, who, accompanied by three of her young ladies in search of information, had achieved this marvellous journey, and was then also in the Bush. Miss Creeble, having very unsettled opinions on the subject of gunpowder, was afraid that it entered into the composition of the fire before the tent, and that something would presently blow up or go off. Mr. Booley, as a more experienced traveller, assuring her that there was no danger; and calming the fears of the young ladies, an acquaintance commenced between them. They accomplished the rest of their travels in New Zealand together, and the best understanding prevailed among the little party. They took notice of the trees, as the Kaikatea, the Kauri, the Ruta, the Pukatea, the Hinau, and the Tanakaka – names which Miss Creeble had a bland relish in pronouncing. They admired the beautiful, aborescent, palm-like fern, abounding everywhere, and frequently exceeding thirty feet in height. They wondered at the curious owl, who is supposed to demanded ‘More Pork!’ wherever he flies, and whom Miss Creeble termed ‘an admonition of Nature against greediness!’ And they contemplated some very rampant natives of cannibal propensities. After many pleasing and instructive vicissitudes, they returned to England in company, where the ladies were safely put into a hackney cabriolet by Mr. Booley, in Leicester Square, London.

And now, indeed, it might have been imagined that that roving spirit, tired of rambling about the world, would have settled down at home in peace and honour. Not so. After repairing to the tubular bridge across the Menai Straits, and accompanying Her Majesty on her visit to Ireland (which he characterised as ‘a magnificent Exhibition’), Mr. Booley, with his usual absence of preparation, departed for Australia.

Here again, he lived out in the Bush, passing his time chiefly among the working-gangs of convicts who were carrying timber. He was much impressed by the ferocious mastiffs chained to barrels, who assist the sentries in keeping guard over those misdoers. But he observed that the atmosphere in this part of the world, unlike the descriptions he had read of it, was extremely thick, and that objects were misty, and difficult to be discerned. From a certain unsteadiness and trembling, too, which he frequently remarked on the face of Nature, he was led to conclude that this part of the globe was subject to convulsive heavings and earthquakes. This caused him to return with some precipitation.

Again at home, and probably reflecting that the countries he had hitherto visited were new in the history of man, this extraordinary traveller resolved to proceed up the Nile to the second cataract. At the next performance of the great ceremony of ‘opening the Nile,’ at Cairo, Mr. Booley was present.

Along that wonderful river, associated with such stupendous fables, and with a history more prodigious than any fancy of man, in its vast and gorgeous facts; among temples, palaces, pyramids, colossal statues, crocodiles, tombs, obelisks, mummies, sand and ruin; he proceeded, like an opium-eater in a mighty dream. Thebes rose before him. An avenue of two hundred sphinxes, with not a head among them, – one of six or eight, or ten such avenues, all leading to a common centre – conducted to the Temple of Carnak: its walls, eighty feet high and twenty-five feet thick, a mile and three-quarters in circumference; the interior of its tremendous hall, occupying an area of forty-seven thousand square feet, large enough to hold four great Christian churches, and yet not more than one-seventh part of the entire ruin. Obelisks he saw, thousands of years of age, as sharp as if the chisel had cut their edges yesterday: colossal statues fifty-two feet high, with ‘little’ fingers five feet and a half long; a very world of ruins, that were marvellous old ruins in the days of Herodotus; tombs cut high up in the rock, where European travellers live solitary, as in stony crow’s nests, burning mummied Thebans, gentle and simple – of the dried blood-royal maybe – for their daily fuel, and making articles of furniture of their dusty coffins. Upon the walls of temples, in colours fresh and bright as those of yesterday, he read the conquests of great Egyptian monarchs: upon the tombs of humbler people in the same blooming symbols, he saw their ancient way of working at their trades, of riding, driving, feasting, playing games; of marrying and burying, and performing on instruments, and singing songs, and healing by the power of animal magnetism, and performing all the occupations of life. He visited the quarries of Silsileh, whence nearly all the red stone used by the ancient Egyptian architects and sculptors came; and there beheld enormous singled-stoned colossal figures, nearly finished – redly snowed up, as it were, and trying hard to break out – waiting for the finishing touches, never to be given by the mummied hands of thousands of years ago. In front of the temple of Abou Simbel, he saw gigantic figures sixty feet in height and twenty one across the shoulders, dwarfing live men on camels down to pigmies. Elsewhere he beheld complacent monsters tumbled down like ill-used Dolls of a Titanic make, and staring with stupid benignity at the arid earth whereon their huge faces rested. His last look of that amazing land was at the Great Sphinx, buried in the sand – sand in its eyes, sand in its ears, sand drifted on its broken nose, sand lodging, feet deep, in the ledges of its head – struggling out of a wide sea of sand, as if to look hopelessly forth for the ancient glories once surrounding it.

In this expedition, Mr. Booley acquired some curious information in reference to the language of hieroglyphics. He encountered the Simoon in the Desert, and lay down, with the rest of his caravan until it had passed over. He also beheld on the horizon some of those stalking pillars of sand, apparently reaching from earth to heaven, which, with the red sun shining through them, so terrified the Arabs attendant on Bruce, that they fell prostrate, crying that the Day of Judgment was come. More Copts, Turks, Arabs, Fellahs, Bedouins, Mosques, Mamelukes, and Moosulmen he saw, than we have space to tell. His days were all Arabian Nights, and he saw wonders without end.

This might have satiated any ordinary man, for a time at least. But Mr. Booley, being no ordinary man, within twenty-four hours of his arrival at home was making the overland journey to India.

He has emphatically described this, as ‘a beautiful piece of scenery,’ and ‘a perfect picture.’ The appearance of Malta and Gibraltar he can never sufficiently commend. In crossing the desert from Grand Cairo to Suez he was particularly struck by the undulations of the Sandscape (he preferred that word to Landscape, as more expressive of the region), and by the incident of beholding a caravan upon its line of march; a spectacle which in the remembrance always affords him the utmost pleasure. Of the stations on the desert, and the cinnamon gardens of Ceylon, he likewise entertains a lively recollection. Calcutta he praises also; though he has been heard to observe that the British military at that seat of Government were not as well proportioned as he could desire the soldiers of his country to be; and that the breed of horses there in use was susceptible of some improvement.

Once more in his native land, with the vigour of his constitution unimpaired by the many toils and fatigues he had encountered, what had Mr. Booley now to do, but, full of years and honour, to recline upon the grateful appreciation of his Queen and country, always eager to distinguish peaceful merit? What had he now to do, but to receive the decoration ever ready to be bestowed, in England, on men deservedly distinguished, and to take his place among the best? He had this to do. He had yet to achieve the most astonishing enterprise for which he was reserved. In all the countries he had yet visited, he had seen no frost and snow. He resolved to make a voyage to the ice-bound arctic regions.

In pursuance of this surprising determination, Mr. Booley accompanied the expedition under Sir James Boss, consisting of Her Majesty’s ships the Enterprise and Investigator, which sailed from the River Thames on the 12th of May 1848, and which, on the 11th of September, entered Port Leopold Harbour.

In this inhospitable region, surrounded by eternal ice, cheered by no glimpse of the sun, shrouded in gloom and darkness, Mr. Booley passed the entire winter. The ships were covered in, and fortified all round with walls of ice and snow; the masts were frozen up; hoar frost settled on the yards, tops, shrouds, stays, and rigging: around, in every direction, lay an interminable waste, on which only the bright stars, the yellow moon, and the vivid Aurora Borealis looked, by night or day.

And yet the desolate sublimity of this astounding spectacle was broken in a pleasant and surprising manner. In the remote solitude to which he had penetrated, Mr. Booley (who saw no Esquimaux during his stay, though he looked for them in every direction) had the happiness of encountering two Scotch gardeners; several English compositors, accompanied by their wives; three brass-founders from the neighbourhood of Long Acre, London; two coach-painters, a gold-beater and his only daughter, by trade a staymaker; and several other working-people from sundry parts of Great Britain who had conceived the extraordinary idea of ‘holiday-making’ in the frozen wilderness. Hither, too, had Miss Creeble and her three young ladies penetrated; the latter attired in braided peacoats of a comparatively light maternal; and Miss Creeble defended from the inclemency of a Polar Winter by no other outer garment than a wadded Polka-jacket. He found this courageous lady in the net of explaining, to the youthful sharers of her toils, the various phases of nature by which they were surrounded. Her explanations were principally wrong, but her intentions always admirable.

Cheered by the society of these fellow-adventurers, Mr. Booley slowly glided on into the summer season. And now, at midnight, all was bright and shining. Mountains of ice, wedged and broken into the strangest forms – jagged points, spires, pinnacles, pyramids, turrets, columns in endless succession and in infinite variety, flashing and sparkling with ten thousand hues, as though the treasures of the earth were frozen up in all that water – appeared on every side. Masses of ice, floating and driving hither and thither, menaced the hardy voyagers with destruction; and threatened to crush their strong ships, like nutshells. But, below those ships was clear sea-water, now; the fortifying walls were gone; the yards, tops, shrouds and rigging, free from that hoary rust of long inaction, showed like themselves again; and the sails, bursting from the masts, like foliage which the welcome sun at length developed, spread themselves to the wind, and wafted the travellers away.

In the short interval that has elapsed since his safe return to the land of his birth, Mr. Booley has decided on no new expedition; but he feels that he will yet be called upon to undertake one, perhaps of greater magnitude than any he has achieved, and frequently remarks, in his own easy way, that he wonders where the deuce he will he taken to next! Possessed of good health and good spirits, with powers unimpaired by all he has gone through, mid with an increase of appetite still growing with what it feeds on, what may not be expected yet from this extraordinary man!

It was only at the close of Easter week that, sitting in an armchair, at a private club called the Social Oysters, assembling at Highbury Barn, where he is much respected, this indefatigable traveller expressed himself in the following terms:

‘It is very gratifying to me,’ said he, ‘to have seen so much at my time of life, and to have acquired a knowledge of the countries I have visited, which I could not have derived from books alone. When I was a boy, such travelling would have been impossible, as the gigantic-moving-panorama or diorama mode of conveyance, which I have principally adopted (all my modes of conveyance have been pictorial), had then not been attempted. It is a delightful characteristic of these times, that new and cheap means are continually being devised for conveying the results of actual experience to those who are unable to obtain such experiences for themselves: and to bring them within the reach of the people – emphatically of the people; for it is they at large who are addressed in these endeavours, and not exclusive audiences. Hence,’ said Mr. Booley, ‘even if I see a run on an idea, like the panorama one, it awakens no ill-humour within me, but gives me pleasant thoughts. Some of the best results of actual travel are suggested by such means to those whose lot it is to stay at home. New worlds open out to them, beyond their little worlds, and widen their range of reflection, information, sympathy, and interest. The more man knows of man, the better for the common brotherhood among us all. I shall, therefore,’ said Mr. Booley, now propose to the Social Oysters, the healths of Mr. Banvard, Mr. Brees, Mr. Phillips, Mr. Allen, Mr. Prout, Messrs. Bonomi, Fahey, and Warren, Mr. Thomas Grieve, and Mr. Burford. Long life to them all, and more power to their pencils?’

The Social Oysters having drunk this toast with acclamation, Mr. Booley proceeded to entertain them with anecdotes of his travels. This he is in the habit of doing after they have feasted together, according to the manner of Sinbad the Sailor – except that he does not bestow upon the Social Oysters the munificent reward of one hundred sequins per night, for listening.

Comments: Charles Dickens (1812-1870) was a British novelist and journalist. Household Words was a weekly magazine that Dickens edited and contributed to. Mr Booley was an elderly gentleman character created by Dickens who features in three Household Words pieces (a second was on Mr Booley’s experience of the Lord Mayor’s Show). Dickens was an enthusiastic viewers of panoramas and dioramas (see http://picturegoing.com/?p=4387). Those whose health is proposed at the end of the article are panorama showmen and artists, including John Banvard, Samuel Charles Brees, John Skinner Prout, Joseph Bonomi, James Fahey, Henry Warren, Thomas Grieve and Robert Burford.

Links: Available at Dickens Journals Online

Mazie

Source: Joseph Mitchell, extract from ‘Mazie’ in Up in the Old Hotel (London: Vintage, 1992), pp. 23-24 (original essay published in The New Yorker, 21 December 1940)

Text: … Mazie has presided for twenty-one years over the ticket cage of the Venice Theatre, at 209 Park Row, a few doors west of Chatham Square, where the Bowery begins.

The Venice is a small, seedy moving-picture theatre, which opens at 8 A.M. and closes at midnight. It is a dime house. For this sum a customer sees two features, a newsreel, a cartoon, a short, and a serial episode. The Venice is not a ‘scratch house.’ In fact, it is highly esteemed by its customers, because its seats get a scrubbing at least once a week. Mazie brags that it is as sanitary as the Paramount. ‘Nobody ever got loused up in the Venice,’ she says. On the Bowery, cheap movies rank just below cheap alcohol as an escape, and most bums are movie fans. In the clientele of the Venice they are numerous. The Venice is also frequented by people from the tenement neighborhoods in the vicinity of Chatham Square, such as Chinatown, the Little Italy on lower Mulberry Street, and the Spanish section on Cherry Street. Two-thirds of its customers are males. Children and most women sit in a reserved section under the eyes of a matron. Once, in an elegant mood, Mazie boasted that she never admits intoxicated persons. ‘When do you consider a person intoxicated? she was asked. Mazie snickered. ‘When he has to get down on all fours and crawl.‘ she said. In any case, there are drunks in practically every Venice audience. When the liquor in them dies down they become fretful and mumble to themselves, and during romantic pictures they make loud, crazy, derogatory remarks to the actors on the screen. but by and large they are not as troublesome as a class of bums Mazie calls ‘the stiffs,’ These are the most listless of bums. They are blank-eyed and slow-moving, and they have no strong desire for anything but sleep. Some are able to doze while leaning against a wall, even in freezing weather. Many stiffs habitually go into the Venice early in the day and slumber in their seats until they are driven out at midnight. ‘Some days I don’t know which this is, a movie-pitcher theatre or a flophouse,’ Mazie once remarked. ‘Other day I told the manager pitchers with shooting in them are bad for business. They wake up the customers.’

Most Bowery movie houses employ bouncers. At the Venice, Mazie is the bouncer. She tells intimates that she feels fighting is unladylike but that she considers it her duty to throw at least one customer out of the theatre every day. ‘If I didn’t put my foot down, the customers would take the place,’ she says. ‘I don’t get any fun out of fighting. I always lose my temper. When I start swinging, I taste blood, and I can’t stop. Sometimes I get beside myself. Also, a lot of the bums are so weak they don’t fight back, and that makes me feel like a heel.’ Mazie is small, but she is wiry and fearless, and she has a frightening voice. Her ticket cage is in the shadow of the tracks of the City Hall spur of the Third Avenue elevated line, and two decades of talking above the screeching of the trains have left her with a rasping bass, with which she can dominate men twice her size. Now and then, in the Venice, a stiff throws his head back and begins to snore so blatantly that he can be heard all over the place, especially during tense moments in the picture. When this happens, or when one of the drunks gets into a bellowing mood, the women and children in the reserved section stamp on the floor and chant,‘Mazie! Mazie! We want Mazie!’ The instant this chant goes up, the matron hastens out to the lobby and raps on the side window of Mazie’s cage. Mazie locks the cash drawer, grabs a bludgeon she keeps around, made of a couple of copies of True Romances rolled up tightly and held together by rubber bands, and strides into the theatre. As she goes down the aisle, peering this way and that, women and children jump to their feet, point fingers in the direction of the offender, and cry, ‘There he is, Mazie! There he is!’ Mazie gives the man a resounding whack on the head with her bludgeon and keeps on whacking him until he seems willing to behave. Between blows, she threatens him with worse punishment. Her threats are fierce and not altogether coherent.‘Outa here on a stretcher!‘ she yells. ‘Knock your eyeballs out! Big baboon! Every tooth in your head! Bone in your body!’ The women and children enjoy this, particularly if Mazie gets the wrong man. as she sometimes does. In action, Mazie is an alarming sight. Her face becomes flushed, her hair flies every which way, and her slip begins to show. If a man defends himself or is otherwise contrary, she harries him out of his seat and drives him from the theatre. As he scampers up the aisle, with Mazie right behind him, whacking away, the women and children applaud …

Comments: Joseph Mitchell (1908-1996) was an American journalist, best-known for his pieces in The New Yorker, of which Up in the Old Hotel is a collection. The Venice opened in 1914 and seated 650 people. The profile continues with its description of Mazie and the cinema operation, noting that she was quite uninterested in films themselves, saying ‘They make me sick’. My thanks to Deac Rossell for bringing this piece to my attention.