Sir Philip Sydney

Source: ‘Sir Philip Sydney’ in Andrew Clark (ed.), ‘Brief Lives’: Chiefly of Contemporaries, Set Down by John Aubrey, Between the Years 1669 & 1696 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1898), vol. II, pp. 249-250

Text: When I was a boy 9 yeares old, I was with my father at one Mr. Singleton’s, an alderman and wollen-draper in Glocester, who had in his parlour, over the chimney, the whole description of the funerall [of Sir Philip Sidney], engraved and printed on papers pasted together, which, at length, was, I beleeve, the length of the room at least; but he had contrived it to be turned upon two pinnes, that turning one of them made the figures march all in order. It did make such a strong impression on my young phantasy, that I remember it as if it were but yesterday. I could never see it elswhere. The house is in the great long street, over against the high steeple; and ’tis likely it remaines there still. Tis pitty it is not re-donne.

Comments: John Aubrey (1626-1697) was an English antiquarian, archaeologist and writer, best known for Brief Lives, a collection of biographical sketches of people from the seventeenth century which was not published until after his death and exists in several forms. The poet Sir Philip Sidney was killed at the Battle of Zutphen and his funeral was held in London on 16 February 1587. Aubrey includes this memory of a moving screen effect from around 1635 in his biography of Sidney (spelled Sydney in his text).

Links: Copy at the Internet Archive

With the Persian Expedition

Source: Major M.H. Donohoe, With the Persian Expedition (London: E. Arnold, 1919), pp. 26-27

Text: The cinema also exercised a great influence on the native mind. Never quite understanding its working, he accepted it all philosophically as part of the travelling outfit of that strange race of infidels from far away who had chased the Turks from the shores of the Arabian Sea, who seemed to be able to make themselves into birds at will, and who rushed over the roadless desert in snorting horseless carriages. Men such as these were capable of anything, and when the first cinema film arrived, the Arabs filled to overflowing the ramshackle building which served as a theatre. In Basra I often went to the cinema, not so much for the show itself as to catch the joy with which that primitive child of nature, the Arab, followed the mishaps and triumphs of the hero through three reels. How they were moved to tears by his sufferings! And how they shouted with joy when the villain of the piece was hoist by his own petard and his career of rascality abruptly and fittingly terminated!”

One thing, I found on talking to some of these native onlookers, puzzled their minds exceedingly, and that was the morals and manners of European women as shown on the screen. The Arab is a fervent stickler for the conventionalities, and it was a great shock to his religious scruples to see women promenading in low-necked dresses with uncovered faces, frequenting restaurants with strange men not their husbands, and imbibing strong drink. “The devil must be kept busy in Faringistan raking all these shameless creatures into the bottomless pit!” said one Arab to me, when I asked him what he thought of the cinema. It was useless to seek to explain that cinema scenes did not represent the real life of the Englishman or the American, and that all our women do not earn thier [sic] living as cinema artists.

In Basra I never saw a Mohammedan woman frequenting a cinema performance. Even had she won over her husband’s consent to such an innovation, public opinion would veto her presence there, and she would not be permitted to look upon this devil’s machine illustrating foreign “wickedness.”

Comments: Martin Henry Donohoe (1869-?) was a major in the British army Intelligence Corps and prior to that a special correspondent for the Daily Chronicle newspaper. The Persian expedition described in his book was an Allied military force named Dunsterforce (after its leader General Lionel Dunsterville), formed in December 1917 and made up of Australian, New Zealand, British and Canadian troops. It played a part in the latter stages of the First World War conflict in Persia (Iran) against the forces of the Ottoman Empire. Donohoe travelled to Iran by way of Basra (now in Iraq), which had been part of the Ottoman Empire but which was now occupied by the British.

Links: Copy at the Internet Archive

Cinema Exit

Source: Richard Aldington, ‘Cinema Exit’, in Images Old and New (Boston: The Four Seas Company, 1916), p. 43 [orig. pub. as Images, 1910-1915, Poetry Bookshop, 1915)

After the click and whirr
Of the glimmering pictures,
The dry feeling in the eyes
As the sight follows the electric flickerings,
The banal sentimentality of the films,
The hushed concentration of the people,
The tinkling piano –
A vast avalanch of greenish yellow light
Pours over the threshold;
White globes darting vertical rays spot the sombre buildings;
The violent gloom of the night
Battles with the radiance;
Swift figures, legs, skirts, white cheeks, hats
Flicker in oblique rays of dark and light.

Millions of human vermin
Swarm sweating
Along the night-arched cavernous roads.

(Happily rapid chemical processes
Will disintegrate them all.)

Comments: Richard Aldington (born Edward Godfree Aldington) (1892-1962) was a British poet, novelist and biographer. As a poet he was associated with the Imagist group. ‘Cinema Exit’ is one of a number of poems Aldington wrote at this time expressing disenchantment with city life.

Links: Copy at Hathi Trust

Continuous Performance

Source: Dorothy Richardson, ‘Continuous Performance’, Close Up vol. X no. 2, June 1933, pp. 130-132

Text: One can grow rather more than weary of hearing that the Drama is on its death-bed. For although there is no need to listen to them, it is not easy to escape the voices of the prophets of woe. They sound out across the world at large, and each little world within it has private vocalists. And there is a certain grim fascination in the spectacle of their futility. What are they? What purpose, since no one heeds their warnings, can they possibly serve? Are they the lunatic fringe, the outside edge of common prudence, the fantastic exaggeration that alone seems able to command fruitful attention? But they don’t, in their own day, command fruitful attention, nor do all of them exaggerate. “Oh, Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that slayest the prophets, hadst thou but known in this thy day the things that belong unto thy peace!” Woe over tribulation that might have been averted if the prophets had been listened to. But in the little world of The Drama, the mourning prophet, true or false, gleams with a perfection of meaninglessness. If his word be false, what does it matter? If true, what can be done? For though cascades of tears may relieve the hearts of those at the bedside, they will not restore the patient.

Meanwhile Drama, variously encumbered, goes its way. And from time to time a play appears — either refreshingly of its time or, equally refreshingly, standing well back within one or other of the grand traditions — and deals with its audiences much as did, when first they dawned, the plays that now are classics, assembled in groups under period labels.

Yet still the prophets howl. And so monotonous is their note, that it is a relief to hear one howling with a difference. Lo, says this newcomer, the drama, is starved for lack of good new dramatists, but all is well with the theatre, since it can carry on with revivals. Triumph-song of an inheritor. Drama comes and drama goes, but the stage goes on for ever. Selah. No matter that one disagrees with his diagnosis. One can stand at his side and drink to the drama in general, date unspecified.

But this prophet has not done with us. Having passed sentence on The Drama, and forthwith commuted it on account of past achievements, he turns to the Film. We learn that the Cinema, like the stage, is starving for lack of good writers. Unlike the stage, it has no classics to fall back upon and must therefore starve to death. Result: the days of the Cinema are numbered.

Why, it may well be enquired, since everyone knows that there is, the world over, a sufficiency of good films to keep going for an indefinite period the cinemas run for those who prefer good films and more than a sufficiency for those who prefer other films, why tilt at such a preposterous windmill? Why not enquire, with transatlantic simplicity, “What’s biting you?” And why not politely indicate one or two recently-appeared masterpieces and point out that they could be exhibited in the world’s leading Cinemas simultaneously, whereas the stage —

Quite. But there is in this prophet’s outcry something more than a pessimism so neat and so mathematical as to have the air of a pastime not unlike a jigsaw puzzle. And while indeed it might be a pastime to oppose the statement on its own ground, in the accredited heavy-weight boxing style of the debating-society, by retorting that if the Stage can worry along on classics, so can the Cinema, by filming these classics, it may not be out of place to take a look at the unconscious assumption underlying this prophet’s neat equation. The assumption that the Cinema is merely the Stage with a difference. For this assumption is one that the general public, including ourselves, is daily more and more inclined to make. Growing talkie-minded, we increasingly regard the Film in the light of the possibilities it shares with the Stage.

For Stage and Screen, falsifying the prophecies of those who saw in the Talkies the doom of the Theatre, have become a joint-stock company, to the benefit of both parties. They, so to speak, try things out for each other. Successful plays are filmed, successful films are made into plays. Insensibly therefore, the screen’s patron, the general public including ourselves, while more or less constantly aware of the ways in which Stage outdoes Film and gets the better of Stage, is apt increasingly to regard the Film as the purveyor of Drama.

We hear of a good film. Born as a film. Or as the brilliant by-product of an obscure novel. Or as the screen equivalent of a good play. The organiser of the cinema showing this film obligingly indicates the times at which it may be seen. We look in. See our play and come away. We are play-goers.

But Cinema could subsist without these events. And could make us attend to it. And even these are ultimately dependent, for their pull on us, upon the peculiar quality of the film’s continuous performance, the unchallenged achievement that so overwhelmingly stated itself when the first “Animated Pictures” cast their uncanny spell with the dim, blurred, continuously sparking representation of a locomotive advancing full steam upon the audience, majestic and terrible.

It was the first hint of the Film’s power of tackling aspects of reality that no other art can adequately handle. But the power of the Film, of Film drama, filmed realities, filmed uplift and education, all its achievements in the realm of the Good, the True and the Beautiful, appealing to the many, and in the realm of the abstract, appealing only to the few, rests alike for the uninstructed, purblind onlooker and the sophisticated kinist, upon the direct relationship, mystic, joyous, wonderful, between the observer a continuous miracle of form in movement, of light and shadow in movement, the continuous performance, going on behind all invitations to focus upon this or that, of the film itself. And if to-morrow all playwrights and all plays should disappear, the Film would still have its thousand resources while the Stage, bereft of its sole material, would die. Except, perhaps, for ballet?

Comments: Dorothy Richardson (1873-1957) was a British modernist novelist. Through 1927-1933 she wrote a column, ‘Continuous Performance’ for the film art journal Close Up. The column concentrates on film audiences rather than the films themselves. The above essay was the last in the series.

All of the ‘Continuous Performance’ essays have now been published on this site, thanks to the full set of Close Up digitised by the Media History Digital Library. This is the full list, in chronological order:

Continuous Performance’, Close Up vol. I no. 1, July 1927
Musical Accompaniment’, Close Up vol. I no. 2, August 1927
Captions’, Close Up vol. I no. 3, September 1927
A Thousand Pities’, Close Up vol. I no. 4, October 1927
There’s No Place Like Home’, Close Up vol. I no. 5, November 1927
The Increasing Congregation’, Close Up vol. I no. 6, December 1927
The Front Rows’, Close Up vol. II no. 1, January 1928
Continuous Performance VIII’, Close Up vol. II no. 3, March 1928
The Thoroughly Popular Film’, Close Up vol. II no. 4, April 1928
The Cinema in the Slums’, Close Up vol. II no. 5, May 1928
Slow Motion’, Close Up vol. II no. 6, June 1928
The Cinema in Arcady’, Close Up vol. II no. 1, July 1928
Pictures and Films’, Close Up vol. IV no. 1, January 1929
Almost Persuaded’, Close Up vol. IV no. 6, June 1929
Dialogue in Dixie’, Close Up vol. V no. 3, September 1929, pp. 211-218
A Tear for Lycidas’, Close Up vol. VII no. 3, September 1930
Narcissus’, Close Up vol. VIII no. 3, September 1931
This Spoon-fed Generation?’, Close Up vol. VIII no. 4, December 1931
The Film Gone Male’, Close Up vol. IX no. 1, March 1932
Continuous Performance’, Close Up vol. X no. 2, June 1933

Mr. Albert Smith’s ‘Ascent of Mont Blanc’

Albert Smith lecturing at the Egyptian Hall, London: ‘The Ascent of Mont Blanc’, Illustrated London News, 25 December 1852, p. 565

Source: Anon., ‘Mr Albert Smith’s “Ascent of Mont Blanc”‘, Illustrated London News, 10 April 1852, p. 291

Text: Mr. Smith’s Lecture at the Egyptian Hall, on his now celebrated ascent of Mont Blanc, with Mr. Beverley’s magnificent illustrations, increases daily and nightly in attraction. They are to be classed among the few things that turn out better than expected, and are thus more highly valued on acquaintance than before. We this week give another of Mr. Beverley’s pictures. It takes the story of the adventurous tourists further in advance, and presents them on the Grands Mulets rocks by sunset. We have to imagine the travellers safely passed over the dangerous crevice in the Glacier du Tacconay, by means of the ladder, and then scrambling up the steep ice-cliff, tied together, and pulled up by a cord one after the other, until, braving much peril, they attained a desirable station. Here they came to the scene of our Illustration—two or three conical rocks which rise from island peaks from the snow and ice at the head of the Glacier des Bossons, and which, were they loftier, would probably be termed aiguilles. They are chosen for a halting-place, not less from their convenient station on the route than from their situation out of the way of the avalanches. The scene and the sunset are powerfully delineated and painted in the following fine piece of description:—

The Grand Mulets

Below us, and rising against our position, was the mighty field of the glacier—a huge prairie, if I may term it so, of snow and ice, with vast irregular undulations, which gradually merged into an apparently smooth unbroken tract, as their distance increased. Towering in front of us, several thousand feet higher, and two or three miles away, yet still having the strange appearance of proximity that I have before alluded to, was the hugs Dône du Goûté—the mighty cupola usually mistaken by the valley travellers for the summit of Mont Blanc. Up the glacier, on my left, was an enormous and ascending valley of ice, which might have been a couple of miles across; and in its course were two or three steep banks of snow, hundreds of feet in height, giant steps by which the level landing-place of the Grand Plateau was to be reached.

The sun at length went down behind the Aiguille du Goûté, and then, for two hours, a scene of such wild and wondrous beauty—of such inconceivable and unearthly splendour—burst upon me, that, spell-bound and almost trembling with the emotion its magnificence called forth—with every sense, and feeling, and thought absorbed by its brilliancy, I saw far more than the realisation of the most gorgeous visions that opium or hasheish could evoke, accomplished. At first, everything about us—above, around, below—the sky, the mountain and the lower peaks—appeared one uniform creation of burnished gold, so brightly dazzling, that, now our veils were removed, the eye could scarcely bear the splendour. As the twilight gradually crept over the lower world, the glow became still more vivid; and presently, as the blue mists rose in the valleys, the tops of the higher mountains looked like islands rising from a filmy ocean—an archipelago of gold. By degrees this metallic lustre was softened into tints—first orange, and then bright, transparent crimson, along the horizon, rising through the different hues, with prismatic regularity, until, immediately above us, the sky was a deep pure blue, merging towards the east into glowing violet. The snow took its colour from these changes; and every portion on which the light tell was soon tinged with pale carmine, of a shade similar to that which snow at times assumes, from some imperfectly explained cause, at high elevations—such, indeed, as I had seen, in early summer, upon the Furka and Faulhorn. These beautiful hues grew brighter as the twilight below increased in depth ; and it now came marching up the valley of the glaciers until it reached our resting-place. Higher and higher still, it drove the lovely glory of the sunlight before it, until at last the vast Dône du Goûté and the summit itself stood out, icelike and grim, in the cold evening air, although the horizon still gleamed with a belt of rosy light.

Although this superb spectacle had faded away, the scene was still even more than striking. The fire which the guides had made, and which was now burning and crackling on a ledge of rock a little below us, threw its flickering light, with admirable effect, upon our band. The men had collected round the blaze, and were making some chocolate, as they sang patois ballads and choruses: they were all evidently as completely at home as they would have been in their own chalets. We had arranged ourselves as conveniently as we could so as not to inconvenience one another, and had still nothing more than an ordinary wrapper over us: there had been no attempt to build the tent with batons and canvas as I had read in some of the Mont Blanc narratives— the starry heaven was our only roofing. F. and P. were already fast asleep. W. was still awake, and I was too excited even to close my eyes in the attempt to get a little repose. We talked for awhile, and then he also was silent.

The stars had come out, and, looking over the plateau, I soon saw the moonlight lying cold and silvery on the summit, stealing slowly down the very track by which the sunset glories had passed upward and away. But it came too tardily that I knew it would be hours before we derived any actual benefit from the light. One after another the guides fell asleep, until only three or four remained round the embers of the fire, thoughtfully smoking their pipes. And then silence, impressive beyond expression, reigned over our isolated world. Often and often, from Chamouni, I had looked up at evening towards the darkening position of the Grands Mulets, and thought almost with shuddering, how awful it must be for men to pass the night in such a remote, eternal, and frozen wilderness, And now I was lying there—in the very heart of its ice-bound and appalling solitude. In such close communion with nature in her grandest aspect, with no trace of the actual living world beyond the were speck that our little party formed, the mind was carried far away from its ordinary trains of thought—a solemn emotion of mingled awe and delight, and yet self-perception of abject nothingness, alone rose above every other feeling. A vast untrodden region of cold, and silence, and death, stretched out, far and away from us, on every side; but above, heaven, with its countless, watchful eyes, was over all!

We may safely leave the picture and this glowing description to commend themselves to the intelligent reader. Both, in their way, are right excellent works of art, and Mr. Smith rises in our estimation as an author, for having delivered himself so nobly on a theme requiring and tasking the higher faculties for its due treatment. He has indeed written eloquently on the sublime.

Comments: Albert Richard Smith (1816-1860) was a British entertainer, novelist and mountaineer. In 1851 he successfully ascended Mont Blanc, and a show devised and presented by Smith the following year about the expedition, at London’s Egyptian Hall, became one of the most renowned and popular entertainments of its time. The show, entitled Mr Albert Smith’s Ascent of Mont Blanc, opened on 15 March 1852. Smith’s talk of his adventures was illustrated by moving panoramas, painted by William Beverley, which moved horizontally for the section covering Smith journey to the Alps, and vertically for the ascent. The show ran for seven seasons six years, with each new season changing elements of of the presentation. The text describes the first season of the show; the illustration at the top of this entry depicts the first season, though it was published at the time of the second season (when a Swiss chalet was added to the staging, framing the panorama). The image within the text shows the Grand Mulets and was originally published with the article (on the following page), referred to in the opening paragraph.