Children of the Green

Source: Doris M. Bailey, Children of the Green: A true story of childhood in Bethnal Green 1922-1937 (London: Stepney Books, 1981), pp. 48-49

Text: The Band of Hope was entirely different. Held on a Monday evening, it attracted so many children as to need two sittings. We would queue up for about three quarters of an hour, and the queue was so long by the time the doors opened, that there would be another three hundred or so waiting to get in when we came out. Some of the children came out and tagged on to the end of the queue again, so much did they enjoy it.

Yet it was a very simple meeting really. We sang cheerful hymns, flashed on a big screen, lovely hymns about drinking pure water and not yielding to temptation.

One favourite was

Give me a draught from the crystal stream,
When the burning sun is high

Not that any of us had even seen a crystal stream, but it was a nice gooey tune and we could really yell.

But the top favourite appealed to me very much, the words had so much meaning for me.

As on the path of life we tread,
We come to many a place,
Where if not careful we may fall, And sink into disgrace.

There was a really rousing chorus which we yelled at the top of our voices.

Don’t step there, don’t step there, don’t step there,
For if not careful you may fall, don’t step there.
The drinker’s path is one beset by many a hidden snare,
Oh, shun the drink shop’s fatal spell, I warn you,
Don’t stop there.

After the hymns, the lights were lowered and we had a story, illustrated by Magic Lantern slides. A deep hush settled over us as we listened to the lovely stories. Nearly always about poor children living in hovels, whose fathers drank away every penny. My Dad was a saint compared with these fathers. How we all wept, when father stole the blankets off the children’s bed to take to the pawnshop for drink money. And we sobbed audibly when mother walked the streets in the snow to get help for her sick baby, clasped to her breast for warmth, while Dad lay in a drunken stupor on the bare boarded floor. Then, the minister of vicar met up with the family, and when the dog collar went into the hovel, the sin went out. Father broke down and admitted the evil of his ways, all the family were saved, father got a job immediately; and they all lived happily ever after. This was the bit I found hard to swallow. I knew that even good men, when they lost their job, didn’t easily get another. But I supposed the minister helped them, because the last picture showed them all well dressed and smiling, sitting in a well furnished room with flowers on a vase on the table, and even the sick baby had taken a miraculous turn for the better and was now a chubby darling sitting on father’s knee.

Then the lights went up and we sang another hymn and made for the door, taking a ticket and signing the pledge, week after week. “I promise to abstain from all intoxicating drinks as beverages.”

Comments: Doris M. Bailey (1916-?), daughter of a french polisher, was born in Bethnal Green in London’s East End and lived there until the late 1930s. This sequence describes events from the 1920s. The Band of Hope, founded in 1855, was a British religious organisation dedicated to teaching children of the evils of drink. It organised regular meetings in churches and halls, which were widespread and popular throughout the Victorian and Edwardian periods.

Sketches of India

Source: [Moyle Sherer], Sketches of India: written by an officer for fire-side travellers at-home (London: Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme, and Brown, 1821), pp. 76-78

Text: As I walked in the bazaar, I came upon a crowd, one minute attentively silent, the next merrily talkative. I pushed among them, and found an exhibition of the magic-lantern kind: in light, colouring, and motion, it was exceedingly well managed. The representations were combats between natives and English; now groupes [sic] of horsemen, now of foot; now a single combat. The showman explained every scene, with many coarse jokes which I could not understand, but which took vastly with the crowd. The British were always beaten, especially in the horse-encounters, and their figures and dress were much caricatured. Had I been known, I should perhaps have been insulted, but with my hat over my eyes, and a handkerchief held generally to my face, I was probably taken for a half-cast [sic] Christian. Fruits, sweetmeats, sherbet, arrack, and toddy, were selling every where. In many places were large shallow pits filled with fires, round which circles of Moors brandishing their naked swords, danced a sort of war-dance in honour of the victorious Ali; singing and shouting at every pause “Ali, Ali!” Occasionally too, one or other of them leaped into and through the fire with looks and gestures half frantic. Walking on, you will see at the corner of one street tumblers, at another dancing-girls; here singers and music, there a story-teller with a party squatted round him. In short, everything wore a festive pleasure-seeking air; and, in spite of the difference of climate, religion, laws, and education, we find the materials in which the heart of man seeks the coarse gratifications suited to it in its natural state, are pretty much the same all over the world.

Comments: Joseph Moyle Sherer (1789–1869) was a British soldier, novelist and travel writer. He was stationed with his regiment in Madras from 1818-1823 and his sketches of India, published in 1821, went through several editions. The scene depicted took place near the British military station at Gooty in Andhra Pradesh.

Links: Copy at Hathi Trust

Marsena

Source: Harold Frederic, extract from ‘Marsena’, in In the Sixties (New York: C. Scribner’s Sons, 1897 [orig. pub. in ‘Marsena’ and Other Stories of the Wartime, 1894]), pp. 196-199

Text: … On the second and final evening, after the oyster supper, the Philharmonics played and a choir of girls sang patriotic songs. Then the gas was turned down and the stereopticon show began.

As the last concerted achievement of the firm of Pulford & Shull, this magic-lantern performance is still remembered. The idea of it, of course, was Julia’s. She suggested it to Marsena, and he gladly volunteered to make any number of positive plates from appropriate pictures and portraits for the purpose. Then she pressed Newton Shull into the service to get a stereopticon on hire, to rig up the platform and canvas for it, and finally to consent to quit his post among the Philharmonics when the music ceased, and to go off up into the gallery to work the slides. He also, during Marsena’s absence one day, made a slide on his own account.

Mr. Shull had not taken very kindly to the idea when Miss Julia first broached it to him.

“No, I don’t know as I ever worked a stereopticon,” he said, striving to look with cold placidity into the winsome and beaming smile with which she confronted him one day out in the reception-room. She had never smiled at him before or pretended even to know his name. “I guess you’d better hire a man up from Tecumseh to bring the machine and run it himself.”

“But you can do it so much better, my dear Mr. Shull!” she urged. “You do everything so much better! Mr. Pulford often says that he never knew such a handy man in all his life. It seems that there is literally nothing that you can’t do — except — perhaps — refuse a lady a great personal favor.”

Miss Julia put this last so delicately, and with such a pretty little arch nod of the head and turn of the eyes, that Newton Shull surrendered at discretion. He promised everything on the spot, and he kept his word. In fact, he more than kept it.

The great evening came, as I have said, and when the lights were turned down to extinction’s verge those who were nearest the front could distinguish the vacant chair which Mr. Shull had been occupying, with his bass viol leaning against it. They whispered from one to another that he had gone up in the gallery to work this new-fangled contrivance. Then came a flashing broad disk of light on the screen above the judges’ bench, a spreading sibilant murmur of interest, and the show began.

It was an oddly limited collection of pictures — mainly thin and feeble copies of newspaper engravings, photographic portraits, and ideal heads from the magazines. Winfield Scott followed in the wake of Kossuth, and Garibaldi led the way for John C. Fremont and Lola Montez. There was applause for the long, homely, familiar face of Lincoln, and a derisive snicker for the likeness of Jeff Davis turned upside down. Then came local heroes from the district round about — Gen. Boyce, Col. Mclntyre, and young Adjt. Heron, who had died so bravely at Ball’s Bluff — mixed with some landscapes and statuary, and a comic caricature or two. The rapt assemblage murmured its recognitions, sighed its deeper emotions, chuckled over the funny plates — deeming it all a most delightful entertainment. From time to time there were long hitches, marked by a curious spluttering noise above, and the abortive flashes of meaningless light on the screen, and the explanation was passed about in undertones that Mr. Shull was having difficulties with the machine.

It was after the longest of these delays that, all at once, an extremely vivid picture was jerked suddenly upon the canvas, and, after a few preliminary twitches, settled in place to stare us out of countenance. There was no room for mistake. It was the portrait of Miss Julia Parmalee standing proudly erect in statuesque posture, with one hand resting on the back of a chair, and seated in this chair was Lieut. Dwight Ransom, smiling amiably. There was a moment’s deadly hush, while we gazed at this unlooked-for apparition. It seemed, upon examination, as if there was a certain irony in the Lieutenant’s grin. Some one in the darkness emitted an abrupt snort of amusement, and a general titter arose, hung in the air for an awkward instant, and then was drowned by a generous burst of applause. While the people were still clapping their hands the picture was withdrawn from the screen, and we heard Newton Shull call down from his perch in the gallery:

“You kin turn up the lights now. They ain’t no more to this.”

In another minute we were sitting once again in the broad glare of the gaslight, blinking confusedly at one another, and with a dazed consciousness that something rather embarrassing had happened. The boldest of us began to steal glances across to where Miss Parmalee and Marsena sat, just in front of the steps to the bench …

Comments: Harold Frederic (1856-1898) was an American journalist and novelist. ‘Marsena’ is a short story set during the 1860s period in America, following the Civil War. Magic lanterns were commonly referred to as stereopticons in America.

Links: Copy at Hathi Trust

In the South Seas

Source: Robert Louis Stevenson, In the South Seas: Being an Account of Experiences and Observations in the Marquesas, Paumotus and Gilbert Islands in the Course of Two Cruises on the Yacht ‘Casco’ (1886) and the Schooner ‘Equator’ (1889) (New York: Scribner’s Sons, 1896), pp. 277-279

Text: Saturday, July 27. – We had announced a performance of the magic lantern to-night in church; and this brought the king to visit us. In honor of the Black Douglas (I suppose) his usual two guardsmen were now increased to four; and the squad made an outlandish figure as they straggled after him, in straw hats, kilts and jackets. Three carried their arms reversed, the butts over their shoulders, the muzzles menacing the king’s plumb back; the fourth had passed his weapon behind his neck, and held it there with arms extended like a backboard. The visit was extraordinarily long. The king, no longer galvanized with gin, said and did nothing. He sat collapsed in a chair and let a cigar go out. It was hot, it was sleepy, it was cruel dull; there was no resource but to spy in the countenance of Tebureimoa for some remaining trait of Mr. Corpse the butcher. His hawk nose, crudely depressed and flattened at the point, did truly seem to us to smell of midnight murder. When he took his leave, Maka bade me observe him going down the stair (or rather ladder) from the verandah. ‘Old man,’ said Maka. ‘Yes,’ said I, ‘and yet I supposed not old man.’ ‘Young man,’ returned Maka, ‘perhaps fo’ty.’ And I have heard since he is most likely younger.

While the magic lantern was showing, I skulked without in the dark. The voice of Maka, excitedly explaining the Scripture slides, seemed to fill not the church only, but the neighborhood. All else was silent. Presently a distant sound of singing arose and approached; and a procession drew near along the road, the hot clean smell of the men and women striking in my face delightfully. At the corner, arrested by the voice of Maka and the lightening and darkening of the church, they paused. They had no mind to go nearer, that was plain. They were Makin people, I believe, probably staunch heathens, contemners of the missionary and his works. Of a sudden, however, a man broke from their company, took to his heels, and fled into the church; next moment three had followed him; the next it was a covey of near upon a score, all pelting for their lives. So the little band of heathen paused irresolute at the corner, and melted before the attractions of a magic lantern, like a glacier in spring. The more staunch vainly taunted the deserters; three fled in a guilty silence, but still fled; and when at length the leader found the wit or authority to get his troop in motion and revive the singing, it was with much diminished forces that they passed musically on up the dark road.

Meanwhile inside the luminous pictures brightened and faded. I stood for some while unobserved in the rear of the spectators, when I could hear just in front of me a pair of lovers following the show with interest, the male playing the part of interpreter (like Adam) mingling caresses with his lecture. The wild animals, a tiger in particular, and that old school-treat favourite, the sleeper and the mouse, were hailed with joy; but the chief marvel and delight was in the gospel series. Maka, in the opinion of his aggrieved wife, did not properly rise to the occasion. ‘What is the matter with the man? Why can’t he talk?’, she cried. The matter with the man, I think, was the greatness of the opportunity; he reeled under his good fortune; and whether he did ill or well, the exposure of these pious ‘phantoms’ did as a matter of fact silence in all that part of the island the voice of the scoffer. ‘Why then,’ the word went round. ‘why then, the Bible is true!’

And on our return afterwards we were told the impression was lively, and those who had seen might be heard telling those who had not, ‘O yes, it is all true; these things all happened, we have seen the pictures.’ The argument is not so childish as it seems; for I doubt if these islanders are acquainted with any other mode of representation but photography; so that the picture of an even (on the old melodrama principle that ‘the camera cannot lie, Joseph,’) would appear strong proof of its occurrence. The fact amused us the more because our slides were some of them ludicrously silly, and one (Christ before Pilate) was received with shouts of merriment, in which even Maka was constrained to join.

Comments: Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894) was a Scottish novelist and travel writer. In the South Seas is a posthumously-published accounts of two cruises through the Pacific Ocean visiting the Hawaiian islands, the Gilbert Islands, Tahiti, New Zealand and the Samoan Islands. This passage relates to his second cruise and his visit to the Gilbert Islands in 1889. My grateful thanks to Artemis Willis for bringing this text to my attention.

Links: Copy at Internet Archive

Glimpses of Unfamiliar Japan

Source: Lafcadio Hearn, Glimpses of Unfamiliar Japan (Boston/New York: Houghton, Mifflin and Company, 1894), vol. II, pp. 646-647

Text: Out of hell, we found our way to a magic-lantern show being given in a larger and even much colder structure. A Japanese magic-lantern show is nearly always interesting in more particulars than one, but perhaps especially as evidencing the native genius for adapting Western inventions to Eastern tastes. A Japanese magic-lantern show is essentially dramatic. It is a play of which the dialogue is uttered by invisible personages, the actors and the scenery being only luminous shadows. Wherefore it is peculiarly well suited to goblinries and weirdnesses of all kinds; and plays in which ghosts figure are the favourite subjects. As the hall was bitterly cold, I waited only long enough to see one performance – of which the following is an epitome:

SCENE 1. – A beautiful peasant girl and her aged mother, squatting together at home. Mother weeps violently, gesticulates agonisingly. From her frantic speech, broken by wild sobs, we learn that the girl must be sent as a victim to the Kami-Sama of some lonesome temple in the mountains. That god is a bad god. Once a year he shoots an arrow into the thatch of some farmer’s house as a sign that he wants a girl – to eat! Unless the girl be sent to him at once, he destroys the crops and the cows. Exit mother, weeping and shrieking, and pulling out her grey hair. Exit girl, with downcast head, and air of sweet resignation.

SCENE II. – Before a wayside inn; cherry-trees in blossom. Enter coolies carrying, like a palanquin, a large box, in which the girl is supposed to be. Deposit box; enter to eat; tell story to loquacious landlord. Enter noble samurai, with two swords. Asks about box. Hears the story of the coolies repeated by loquacious landlord. Exhibits fierce indignation; vows that the Kami-Sama are good – do not eat girls. Declares that so-called Kami-Sama to be a devil. Observes that devils must be killed. Orders box opened. Sends girl home. Gets into box himself, and commands coolies under pain of death to bear him right quickly to that temple.

SCENE III. – Enter coolies, approaching temple through forest at night. Coolies afraid. Drop box and run. Exeunt coolies. Box alone in the dark. Enter veiled figure, all white. Figure moans unpleasantly; utters horrid cries. Box remains impassive. Figure removes veil, showing Its face – a skull with phosphoric eyes. [Audience unanimously utter the sound ‘Aaaaaa!’] Figure displays Its hands – monstrous and apish, with claws. [Audience utter a second ‘Aaaaaa!’] Figure approaches the box, touches the box, opens the box! Up leaps noble samurai. A wrestle; drums sound the roll of battle. Noble samurai practises successfully noble art of ju-jutsu. Casts demon down, tramples upon him triumphantly, cuts off his head. Head suddenly enlarges, grows to the size of a house, tries to bite off head of samurai. Samurai slashes it with his sword. Head rolls backward, spitting fire, and vanishes. Finis. Exeunt omnes.

Comments: Patrick Lafcadio Hearn (1850-1904) was an Irish-Greek journalist and travel writer best known for books on Japan, where he lived from 1890, taking on Japanese nationality with the name Koizumi Yakumo. His Glimpses of Unfamiliar Japan is based on his time in Matsue in the early 1890s. The opening mention of ‘hell’ refers to a puppet show he had just seen.

Links: Copy at Internet Archive

Ancient Mysteries Described

Source: William Hone, Ancient Mysteries Described, Especially the English Miracle Plays, Founded on Apocryphal New Testament Story, Extant Among the Unpublished Manuscripts in the British Museum etc. (London: William Hone, 1823), pp. 230-231

Text: The English puppet-show was formerly called a motion. Shakspeare [sic] mentions the performance of Mysteries by puppets; his Autolycus frequented wakes, fairs, and bear-baitings, and ‘compassed a motion of the Prodigal Son’ On a Twelfth night, in 1818, a man, making the usual Christmas cry, of ‘Gallantee show,’ was called in to exhibit his performances for the amusement of my young folks and their companions. Most unexpectedly, he ‘compassed a motion of the Prodigal Son‘ by dancing his transparencies between the magnifying glass and candle of a magic lanthorn, the coloured figures greatly enlarged, were reflected on a sheet spread against the wall of a darkened room. The prodigal son was represented carousing with his companions at the Swan Inn, at Stratford; while the landlady in the bar, on every fresh call, was seen to score double. There was also Noah’s Ark, with ‘Pull Devil, Pull Baker,’ or the just judgment upon a baker who sold bread short of weight, and was carried to hell in his own basket. The reader will bear in mind, that this was not a motion in the dramatic sense of the word, but a puppet-like exhibition of a Mystery, with discrepancies of the same character as those which peculiarized the Mysteries of five centuries ago. The Gallantee-showman narrated with astonishing gravity the incidents of every fresh scene, while his companion in the room played country-dances and other tunes on the street organ, during the whole of the performance. The manager informed me that his show had been the same during many years, and, in truth, it was unvariable; for his entire property consisted of but this one set of glasses, and his magic lanthorn. I failed in an endeavour to make him comprehend that its propriety could be doubted of: it was the first time that he had heard of the possibility of objection to an entertainment which his audiences witnessed every night with uncommon and unbounded applause. Expressing a hope that I would command his company at a future time, he put his card into my hand, inscribed, ‘The Royal Gallantee Show, provided by Jos. Leverge, 7, Ely Court, Holborn Hill:’ the very spot whereon the last theatrical representation of a Mystery, the play of Christ’s Passion, is recorded to have been witnessed in England.

Comments: William Hone (1780-1842) was a British satirist, bookseller and campaigner against censorship. A Galantee show was one provided by a travelling entertainer of the first half of the nineteenth century, whose entertainments could include magic lanterns, puppets, shadows shows etc. Autolycus is a character in William Shakespeare’s play The Winter’s Tale. Hone’s book Ancient Mysteries Described traces the history of the English miracle and mystery plays, and here finds traces of their survival in the magic lantern show performed for a child audience.

Links: Copy at Internet Archive

Travels through Arabia and other countries in the East

Source: Carsten Niebuhr (trans. Robert Heron), Travels through Arabia and other countries in the East (Edinburgh, R. Morison and Son, 1792), pp. 144-145, abridged version of Reisebeschreibung von Arabien und anderen umliegenden Ländernorig pub. 1772/1774)

Text: The magic lanthorn is a favourite amusement in the East, I was not, however, fond of such entertainments; as their scope was always to turn the dress and manners of the Europeans into ridicule.

Comments: Carsten Niebuhr (1733-1815) was a Danish cartographer and explorer who took part in the Danish Arabia expedition of 1761-67, visiting Egypt (in 1762), Arabia and Syria. The above comes from an account of public shows seen in Cairo, which included plays, puppet shows, jugglers and performing monkeys (dressed as Europeans).

Links: German original
English translation at Hathi Trust

Our Antipodes

Source: Godfrey Charles Munday, Our Antipodes; or, Residence and rambles in the Australasian colonies, with a glimpse of the gold fields (London: R. Bentley, 1855), p. 287

Text: This evening, after dinner, the Governor entertained a select party of Aborigines with an exhibition of the magic lanthorn. His swarthy guests squatted on the floor in solemn silence, and maintained perfect gravity and decorum during the more ordinary passages of the spectacle — only testifying their admiration by an interjectional grunt, or their recognition of the object represented by pronouncing its name – “Teema,” steamer – “Hoia,” soldier, &c. But when, in the character of showman, I manoeuvred the double slides, under the operation of which a plum-pudding was seen to blow up just as the clown was sticking his fork in it; or the huge eyes were made to roll in the head of a monstrous ogre, their childish glee broke forth unrestrained, and it became impossible to prevent some of them from violating the old nursery commandment, “Look with your eyes and not with your fingers;” for three or four great bushy heads were soon shadowed forth on the magic tablet, and a dozen great black hands rushed to manipulate its surface. Like Quixote’s showman, I began to fear for my puppets; but all passed off quietly! As for me I made the utmost possible allowances for their excitement; for, next to Punch, the magic lanthorn ranks, in my memory of by-gone enjoyments, as the most attractive of minor spectacles.

Comments: Godfrey Charles Munday (1804-1860) was a British soldier and travel writer. Together with his cousin Charles Augustus FitzRoy, governor of New South Wales, he made tours of the New South Wales outback, Victoria, Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania) and New Zealand. His travel book Our Antipodes was very popular and is still valued by historians. The magic lantern show for the Maoris described here took place end of December 1847, near Auckland.

Links: Copy at Hathi Trust

Scott’s Last Expedition

ponting

Colour plate from Scott’s Last Expedition: ‘Mr Ponting Lecturing on Japan’

Source: Robert Falcon Scott, journal entries for 29 May 1911 and 22 August 1911, in Captain R.F. Scott, Scott’s Last Expedition (London: Smith, Elder, 1914), vol. 1, pp. 292, 387-388

Text: Monday, May 29. – … Lecture – Japan. To-night Ponting gave us a charming lecture on Japan with wonderful illustrations of his own. He is happiest in his descriptions of the artistic side of the people, with which he is in fullest sympathy. So he took us to see the flower pageants. The joyful festivals of the cherry blossom, the wistaria, the iris and chrysanthemum, the sombre colours of the beech blossom and the paths about the lotus gardens, where mankind meditated in solemn mood. We had pictures, too, of Nikko and its beauties, of Temples and great Buddhas. Then in more touristy strain of volcanoes and their craters, waterfalls and river gorges, tiny tree-clad islets, that feature of Japan – baths and their bathers, Ainos, and so on. His descriptions were well given and we all of us thoroughly enjoyed our evening.

[…]

Tuesday, August 22. – I am renewing study of glacier problems; the face of the ice cliff 300 yards east of the homestead is full of enigmas. Yesterday evening Ponting gave us a lecture on his Indian travels. He is very frank in acknowledging his debt to guide-books for information, nevertheless he tells his story well and his slides are wonderful. In personal reminiscence he is distinctly dramatic he thrilled us a good deal last night with a vivid description of a sunrise in the sacred city of Benares. In the first dim light the waiting, praying multitude of bathers, the wonderful ritual and its incessant performance; then, as the sun approaches, the hush – the effect of thousands of worshippers waiting in silence – a silence to be felt. Finally, as the first rays appear, the swelling roar of a single word from tens of thousands of throats: ‘Ambah!’ It was artistic to follow this picture of life with the gruesome horrors of the ghat. This impressionist style of lecturing is very attractive and must essentially cover a great deal of ground. So we saw Jeypore, Udaipore, Darjeeling, and a confusing number of places – temples, monuments and tombs in profusion, with remarkable pictures of the wonderful Taj Mahal – horses, elephants, alligators, wild boars, and flamingos – warriors, fakirs, and nautch girls – an impression here and an impression there.

It is worth remembering how attractive this style can be – in lecturing one is inclined to give too much attention to connecting links which join one episode to another. A lecture need not be a connected story; perhaps it is better it should not be.

Comments: Robert Falcon Scott (1868-1912) was a Royal Navy officer and explorer, who led the British Expedition to the South Pole on the Terra Nova and died on the return journey. The expedition included a photographer and cinematographer, Herbert Ponting (1870-1935). During the winter months when there was no sun at the Antarctic various entertainments were put on for the expedition members in their hut at Cape Evans. These included regular lectures given by Ponting, using a magic lantern and photographs taken by him from around the world (Ponting had been on photographic assignments to Burma, Korea, Java, China, India and Japan). Scott’s journal makes several references to these lectures, as well as to Ponting’s photographic and cinematographic work. Ponting did not exhibit his films to the expedition as he did not have a projector not the mean to process prints from his negatives.

Links: Copy at Internet Archive

Scott's Last Expedition

ponting

Colour plate from Scott’s Last Expedition: ‘Mr Ponting Lecturing on Japan’

Source: Robert Falcon Scott, journal entries for 29 May 1911 and 22 August 1911, in Captain R.F. Scott, Scott’s Last Expedition (London: Smith, Elder, 1914), vol. 1, pp. 292, 387-388

Text: Monday, May 29. – … Lecture – Japan. To-night Ponting gave us a charming lecture on Japan with wonderful illustrations of his own. He is happiest in his descriptions of the artistic side of the people, with which he is in fullest sympathy. So he took us to see the flower pageants. The joyful festivals of the cherry blossom, the wistaria, the iris and chrysanthemum, the sombre colours of the beech blossom and the paths about the lotus gardens, where mankind meditated in solemn mood. We had pictures, too, of Nikko and its beauties, of Temples and great Buddhas. Then in more touristy strain of volcanoes and their craters, waterfalls and river gorges, tiny tree-clad islets, that feature of Japan – baths and their bathers, Ainos, and so on. His descriptions were well given and we all of us thoroughly enjoyed our evening.

[…]

Tuesday, August 22. – I am renewing study of glacier problems; the face of the ice cliff 300 yards east of the homestead is full of enigmas. Yesterday evening Ponting gave us a lecture on his Indian travels. He is very frank in acknowledging his debt to guide-books for information, nevertheless he tells his story well and his slides are wonderful. In personal reminiscence he is distinctly dramatic he thrilled us a good deal last night with a vivid description of a sunrise in the sacred city of Benares. In the first dim light the waiting, praying multitude of bathers, the wonderful ritual and its incessant performance; then, as the sun approaches, the hush – the effect of thousands of worshippers waiting in silence – a silence to be felt. Finally, as the first rays appear, the swelling roar of a single word from tens of thousands of throats: ‘Ambah!’ It was artistic to follow this picture of life with the gruesome horrors of the ghat. This impressionist style of lecturing is very attractive and must essentially cover a great deal of ground. So we saw Jeypore, Udaipore, Darjeeling, and a confusing number of places – temples, monuments and tombs in profusion, with remarkable pictures of the wonderful Taj Mahal – horses, elephants, alligators, wild boars, and flamingos – warriors, fakirs, and nautch girls – an impression here and an impression there.

It is worth remembering how attractive this style can be – in lecturing one is inclined to give too much attention to connecting links which join one episode to another. A lecture need not be a connected story; perhaps it is better it should not be.

Comments: Robert Falcon Scott (1868-1912) was a Royal Navy officer and explorer, who led the British Expedition to the South Pole on the Terra Nova and died on the return journey. The expedition included a photographer and cinematographer, Herbert Ponting (1870-1935). During the winter months when there was no sun at the Antarctic various entertainments were put on for the expedition members in their hut at Cape Evans. These included regular lectures given by Ponting, using a magic lantern and photographs taken by him from around the world (Ponting had been on photographic assignments to Burma, Korea, Java, China, India and Japan). Scott’s journal makes several references to these lectures, as well as to Ponting’s photographic and cinematographic work. Ponting did not exhibit his films to the expedition as he did not have a projector nor the mean to process prints from his negatives.

Links: Copy at Internet Archive