It took nine tailors

Source: Adolphe Menjou and M.M. Musselman, It took nine tailors (New York/Toronto: Whittlesey House, 1948), pp. 16-17

Text: Perhaps the years have added glamour and magnitude to my recollection of the Casino, for I still think of it as a Taj Mahal among restaurants. I have dined in some of the finest eating places in the world, but in my memory none ever compared with Father’s coup de maître. It must have been quite a place at that, for today my mother’s face still lights up when it is mentioned, and many other old Clevelanders recall its cuisine, its wine cellar, and its multiplex grandeur with that heart-felt nostalgia commonly reserved for such turn-of-the-century frivolities as bock beer, bicycles built for two, and the bird on Nellie’s hat.

The Casino was located at 325-327 Superior Street in downtown Cleveland. It was really several cafés in one. On the main floor was a bar and grill for gentlemen only. On the second floor was a subdued ladies’ café, which did not mean that it was for ladies only, but that it was for gentlemen escorting ladies. On the third floor was a more sumptuous dining room where a gypsy orchestra played sentimental music from an overhanging balcony. The top floor was given over to Cleveland’s first roof garden, which was open from eight until midnight. It was more like today’s night clubs with one exception, as my mother points out — the music, the entertainment, and the dancing were as refined as you could want in your own home.

Shortly after the Casino opened Father became one of the first motion-picture exhibitors in Cleveland. He rented a projector and some films from New York to show his roof-garden customers this interesting novelty that, up to that time, most of them had only read about in the newspapers.

On the night when the first pictures were shown at the garden, Mother allowed Henry and me to view this amazing new phenomenon — pictures that moved. We gaped in amazement at our first view of Niagara Falls in action; we fell in love with a beautiful creature who performed a “skirt dance”; and when the Empire State Express appeared on the screen and thundered straight at us, we almost jumped out of our skins.

The audience merely applauded politely at these sights; but when Teddy Roosevelt and his Rough Riders rode onto the scene, fresh from the Battle of San Juan Hill, they were greeted by a spontaneous ovation.

In the ten or fifteen minutes it took to unreel the series of short subjects that made up the bill that night, I became an inveterate movie fan. And I am still one of Hollywood’s best customers. Some movie actors like to brag that they never even go to see their own pictures. Perhaps I’m naive, but I like the movies; I even stay for the second feature.

The day after the movies had been shown at the Casino Father reported to Mother and Grand’mère that the customers had been highly entertained by the novelty of the night before, but that they had all agreed that moving pictures were just a passing fad — like automobiles.

Comments: Adolphe Menjou (1890-1963) was an American film actor of French ancestry. His films included A Woman of Paris (1923), The Front Page (1931) and A Star is Born (1937). His father was a restauranteur, whose Casino venue opened in Cleveland around 1898. The films Menjou recalls appear to have been Biograph productions, and include Empire State Express (1896) and probably Roosevelt Rough Riders (1898). The Battle of San Juan Hill was part of the Spanish-American War and was fought on 1 July 1898. The Biograph film showed Teddy Roosevelt’s military unit galloping towards the camera, filmed before the battle.

Links: Copy at Hathi Trust

Department of Physics

Source: ‘Department of Physics’, Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 10 May 1893, p. 9

Text: Department of Physics. Annual Election in an Important Branch of the Institute. The Business Meeting Was Followed by an Exhibition of Edison’s New Instrument, the Kinetograph, Which Throws a Picture on a Screen Simultaneously with the Production by Phonograph of the Scene Presented and the Movements Pictured.

The Annual Election for officers in the department of physics, Brooklyn Institute, followed by an exhibition of Edison’s new instrument, the kinetograph, was held at 502 Fulton street last evening. The following new officers were unanimously elected: President, Professor Samuel Sheldon; vice president, Professor W. Gould Levison; secretary, James R. Priddy; treasurer, P.H. Van Evern. After a few words from the new officers, Mr. George M. Hopkins addressed the audience. In his desire to get something to interest the department he had written to Mr. Edison, who had replied in substance: “How would the kinetograph do?” He immediately visited Mr. Edison’s laboratory to investigate, and found that the kinetograph he had hoped to secure was beyond his reach. The instrument of that name, about which so much appeared in the newspapers a few years ago, is an optical lantern and a mechanical device by which a moving image is projected in the screen simultaneously with the production by a phonograph of the words of song which accompany the movements pictured. For example: The photograph of a prima donna would be shown on the screen, with the movement of the lips, the head and the body, together with the changes of facial expression, while the phonograph would produce the song. To arrange this apparatus for this evening was impracticable, he said, and the audience would have to be satisfied with the small instrument designed for individual observation, which simply shows the movements without the accompanying words. This apparatus is the refinement of Plateau’s phenakistoscope or the zootrope, and is carried out to great perfection. The principle can be readily understood by anyone who has ever examined the instrument. Persistence of vision is depended upon to blend the successive images into one continuous ever-changing photographic picture. In addition to Plateau’s experiments he referred to the work accomplished by Muybridge and Anschuetz [sic], who very successfully photographed animals in motion, and Demeny, who produced an instrument called the phonoscope, which gave the facial expression while words were being spoken, so that deaf and dumb people could readily understand. But Mr. Edison, Mr. Hopkins said, has produced a machine by means of which far more perfect results are secured. The fundamental feature in his experiments is the camera, by means of which the pictures are taken. This camera starts, moves and stops the sensitive strip which receives the photographic image, forty-six times a second, and the exposure of the plate takes place in one-eighth of this time, or in about one-fifty-seventh of a second. The lens for producing these pictures was made to order at an enormous expense, and every detail at this end of the experiment was carefully looked after. There are 700 impressions on each strip, and when these pictures are shown in succession in the kinetograph the light is intercepted 700 times during one revolution of the strip. The duration of each image is 1-92 of a second and the entire strip passes through the instrument in about thirty seconds. In this instrument each image dwells upon the retina until it is replaced by the succeeding one, and the difference between any picture and the succeeding one or preceding one is so slight as to render it impossible to observe the intermittent character of the picture. Ht explained the manner in which the photographs were produced by presenting the familiar dancing skeleton on the screen. A zootrope, adapted to the lantern shows the principle of the Kinetograph. In this instrument a disk having a radial slit is revolved rapidly in front of a disk bearing a series of images in different positions, which are arranged radially upon a rapidly revolving disk. The relative speeds of these disks are such that when they are revolved in the lantern the radial slit causes the images to [be] seen in regular succession, so that they replace each other and appear to really be in motion, but this instrument on exhibition, as compared with the kinetograph, is a very crude affair.

At the conclusion of Mr. Hopkins’ address every one was accorded an opportunity of looking into the new machine, which was for the first time exhibited publicly. It is one of many Mr. Edison has made for the world fair and was exhibited last night by one of his assistants, Mr. W. Kennedy Laurie Dickson. It can be compared to the photograph, that is, it pictorially presents every object brought within its view. As described above, it shows living subjects portrayed in a manner to excite wonderment. One of the pictures seen in the machine, for example, was that of a blacksmith shop in which two men were working, one shoeing a horse, the other heating iron at the forge. The one would be seen to drive the nail into the shoe on the horse’s hoof, to change his position, and every movement needed in the work was clearly shown as if the object was in real life. In fact, the whole routine of the two men’s labor and their movements for the day was presented to the view of the observer. At the conclusion of the exhibition a vote of thanks was passed to Mr. Hopkins.

Comments: This presentation for around 400 members members of the Brooklyn Institute of Arts and Sciences on 9 April 1893 was the first public exhibition of the Edison Kinetoscope peepshow (an earlier model had been presented to members of the Federation of Women’s Clubs at Edison’s home at Glenmont, 20 May 1891). The article uses the term Kinetograph (which was the name of the camera) when it means the Kinetoscope (which had not been publicly named as such as yet). The films exhibited were Blacksmithing Scene (1893) and Horse Shoeing (1893). All of the press material on Edison’s moving image experiments at this time mention the intention to marry the viewer with the Phonograph, the crude realisation of which would be the Kinetophone of 1895 (a Kinetoscope with hearing device). The experimenters in motion photography mentioned in the article are Joseph Plateau, Eadweard Muybridge, Ottomar Anschütz and Georges Demenÿ. Contrary to what was promised here, the Kinetoscope was not exhibited at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair.

Links: Brooklyn Newstand (online archive of Brooklyn Daily Eagle)

At the Palace

Source: Extract from ‘At the Palace’, Punch, 6 August 1898, p. 57

Text: Then comes “The American Biograph.” Wonderful!! But, my eyes! my head!! and the whizzing and the whirling and twittering of nerves, and blinkings and winkings that it causes in not a few among the spectators, who could not be content with half the show, or even a third of it. It is a night-mare! There’s a rattling, and a shattering, and there are sparks, and there are showers of quivering snow-flakes always falling, and amidst these appear children fighting in bed, a house on fire, with inmates saved by the arrival of fire engines, which, at some interval, are followed by warships pitching about at sea, sailors running up riggings and disappearing into space, train at full speed coming directly at you, and never getting there, but jumping out of the picture into outer darkness where the audience is, and the, the train having vanished, all the country round takes it into its head to follow as hard as ever it can, rocks, mountains, trees, towns, gateways, castles, rivers, landscapes, bridges, platforms, telegraph-poles, all whirling and squirling and racing against one another, as if to see which will get to the audience first, and then, suddenly … all disappear into space!! Phew! We breathe again!! But, O heads! O brandies and sodas! O Whiskies and waters! Restoratives, quick! It is wonderful, most wonderful! Nay, we had almost said, with the learned Dr. JOHNSON, that we wished “it were impossible,” But to wish this is to put the clock back, and the show is over in excellent time to allow of supper and refreshment where you will. Still, just a third of the American Biograph as invented by HERMAN CASLER, would suffice for this particular deponent, and for not a few others. Anyway, the Palace thoroughly deserves its present most evident popularity.

Comments: The American Biograph was the brand name given to the Biograph projector, invented by the American Herman Casler and marketed by the American Mutoscope and Biograph Company. The Biograph utilised 70mm film with exceptional image quality. It was showcased in London at the Palace Theatre of Varieties in Cambridge Circus, featuring as part of the programme between March 1897 and December 1902. The American Biograph appeared towards the end of the programme, and showed a selection of 15 or so films, mostly actualities, over a period of 30 minutes.

Links: Copy at the Internet Archive

Electrical Wonders


The Electrical Schnellesher (from

Source: ‘Electrical Wonders’, The Daily News (London), 20 December 1892, p. 2

Text: Between five and six years ago Herr Anschütz, the scientific photographer of Berlin, showed the Crown Prince a certain picture of figures in motion. Besides the Crown Prince, there were present the King of Saxony and one or two German princes. What the Crown Prince saw, or thought he saw, was a drawing – painting – or photograph, the subject of which, instead of being in an overlastingly fixed attitude, was in active bodily motion. A spectator without an inkling of a knowledge of optics or photography or any science whatever would have been as much surprised at Herr Anschütz’s picture as he would have been at Mr. Gladstone’s in the National Liberal Club – supposing he had seen the latter raise its hand as if in the act of speaking, turn its head sharply, as if in rebuke of somebody, then sit down, cross its legs, lean forward, and turn its palm into an ear trumpet, in the attitude of listening to the next orator. ‘Herr Anschütz’, said the Crown Prince, “it is well for you that you were not born three centuries ago, for you would have been taken up as a sorcerer and burnt.’ And yet the whole thing is as plain as A B C. It was this same Herr Anschütz who some time ago took a photograph of a cannon ball at each of three separate points in its swift invisible flight. Herr Anschütz’s ‘Electrical Wonder’ has just been sent from Berlin to No. 425, Strand. Twelve pictures are ready. Eighteen or twenty more will be ready in a short time. It is the intention of the Wonder Company to take pictures of ‘local objects’. Science, rank, and fashion were pretty well represented at the opening day, yesterday, between the hours of eleven and three.

A picture in the Anschütz collection is one and indivisible only in the spectator’s consciousness. It is the resultant of twenty-five separate pictures, each of which differs slightly in attitude, &c., from its predecessor. If all the twenty-five pictures are passed before the eye, say in three-quarters of a second, none of them leaves a conscious impression of itself upon the observer’s mind. Each picture has only the thirtieth part of a second to do it in; in unscientific phraseology, the pace is to fast for the response of consciousness. What does happen in the short space of three-quarters of a second is the merging of the twenty-five separate pictures into one picture – a picture in which the person, or animal, or group is seen in motion. The idea has been familiarised on the much humbler scale of the toymaker in what is commonly called the zoetrope, or wheel of life. In its more scientific aspect it has been used in the thaumatrope and the phenakistoscope, which depend for their effect on the persistence of vision. Let us take, for an example, the picture of the huntsman leaping a brook. Twenty-five pictures were taken when the horse was in the act, and they were taken in less than a second. The first picture suppose showed the horse when about to spring, the second when the hind feet were leaving the ground, the thirteenth when the horse had just turned the point of its highest distance, and so on by minute gradations, until the twenty-fifth and last picture, when the horse was again on terra firma. Between one pictorial attitude and the next there intervened less than the twenty-fifth part of a second. The interval was too short for the eye to individualise any one attitude. If, then, these twenty-five separate pictures were arranged, consecutively, say on a revolving disc, and flashed one after the other upon the spectator’s eye within the second of time, the result would be a single picture – single image – of the entire act of leaping across a brook. That is what happens with the aid of the electric spark in each of the peep-show like boxes in 425 Strand.

You are looking at what might be an illustrated page in a book, but the action in this magical illustration is a continuous one. The effect is no less beautiful than wonderful. On the bluish page, as it seems to be, a page which might be fitted into an octavo volume, the picture develops itself from beginning to end. The sand is thrown up by the horse’s heels and falls down again. The horse’s tail and mane wave. His bitted mouth opens. Even his muscular contractions are visible; and the straining of the neck, the distension of the eager nostrils, the drawing up, bending and outstretching of the limbs. The huntsman’s coat-tails flap. Woodcuts and coloured plates in the books used by mortal men do bot behave in that singular fashion. But in No. 425, Strand, we are in the miracle shop of Herr Anschütz, the natural-supernaturalist. ‘I see a picture of life-in-movement’ says Consciousness. ‘It is all maya-illusion’, says Science, ‘the reality, the twenty-five pictures, you do not see; what you do see is a phantom born of them.’ And so with the octavo-sized picture of two girls dancing. If a Graphic artist draws two girls dancing in Drury Lane, he fixed them at a particular moment, in a particular attitude for ever and ever. But in Herr Anschütz’s picture, the girls trip on their light fantastic toes, they wave their arms, their dresses flutter into everchanging folds. The picture is, let us call it, the composite ghost of 25 real pictures each representing an attitude, or fraction of an attitude, in the total movement; and all electrically flashed in succession before the eye in about a second of time. And so again, with the picture of the boys at drill; of the lady riding at a slow, easy trot; of the athletes vaulting and flying head over heels; of the ‘professor’ making his dog take a six foot jump over a cane; of the boxing match; of the squad of Uhlans. It is as if the engravings on our octavo pages become alive and move like their prototypes in the flesh. The boys march in the stiff-legged Prussian fashion. The mounted lady trots most gracefully. Her horse is a fine stepper. The fellows in the Row would be sure to stare at her through their eyeglasses. In their octavo picture the athletes bound off their spring boards, and turn head over heels, as nicely as any young men do in any London gymnasium.

Perhaps the most amusing picture is that of the two boxers. You can watch the play of their bicepital muscles, heels, toes, legs, while they do their best to let each other’s ‘claret’ out. But the prettiest picture of all is the Uhlan squad — a wonderful little picture of the confused, twinkling swing of horse’s legs, the waving of manes and tails, the flutter of the pennons on the gently swaying lances, the steady, alert figures of the riders. In or about a second’s time 25 successive pictures were taken of a Uhlan squad in motion, each picture representing the attitudes of the whole during a particular fraction of a second. By flashing in equally rapid succession the twenty-five pictures before the observer’s eye, the image of the original squad is created. In size, as in other respects, the Anschütz is an astonishing apparatus. It contains twenty-five lenses. Four men on horseback may easily find room inside it. ‘What did this astonishing camera cost the Herr Anschütz?’ we asked. ‘£30,000.’

Comments: Ottomar Anschütz (1846-1907) was a German photographer whose various devices with sequential images on a cylinder or disc that showed fleeting motion sequences anticipated cinema. His coin-operated Electrical Schnellesher, or Electrical Wonder (which showed (24, not 25, images shown in a second), was exhibited in London from 19 December 1892. My thanks to Deac Rossell for bringing this article to my attention.


Source: Frank Norris, McTeague: A Story of San Francisco (New York: International Book and Publishing Company, 1900 [orig. pub. 1899]), pp. 97, 105

Text: While waiting they studied their programmes. First was an overture by the orchestra, after which came “The Gleasons, in their mirth-moving musical farce, entitled ‘McMonnigal’s Court-ship.'” This was to be followed by “The Lamont Sisters, Winnie and Violet, serio-comiques and skirt dancers.” And after this came a great array of other “artists” and “specialty performers,” musical wonders, acrobats, lightning artists, ventriloquists, and last of all, “The feature of the evening, the crowning scientific achievement of the nineteenth century, the kinetoscope.”

McTeague was excited, dazzled. In five years he had not been twice to the theatre. Now he beheld himself inviting his “girl” and her mother to accompany him. He began to feel that he was a man of the world. He ordered a cigar.


The kinetoscope fairly took their breaths away.

“What will they do next?” observed Trina, in amazement. “Ain’t that wonderful, Mac?”

McTeague was awe-struck.

“Look at that horse move his head,” he cried excitedly, quite carried away. “Look at that cable car coming—and the man going across the street. See, here comes a truck. Well, I never in all my life! What would Marcus say to this?”

“It’s all a drick!” exclaimed Mrs. Sieppe, with sudden conviction. “I ain’t no fool; dot’s nothun but a drick.”

“Well, of course, mamma,” exclaimed Trina, “it’s——”

But Mrs. Sieppe put her head in the air.

“I’m too old to be fooled,” she persisted. “It’s a drick.” Nothing more could be got out of her than this.

The party stayed to the very end of the show, though the kinetoscope was the last number but one on the programme, and fully half the audience left immediately afterward.

Comments: Frank Norris (1870-1902) was an American novelist. His 1899 novel McTeague, about a dentist and his wife’s descent into poverty, was made into the film Greed (USA 1924), directed by Erich von Stroheim. The term kinetoscope is used here as a generic term for film projection, rather than the specific Edison Kinetoscope peepshow device. The full sequence from the novel describes the various variety acts that comprised the show.

Links: Copy at Internet Archive

The Cinematograph

Source: ‘The Cinematograph’, The Sheffield & Rotherham Independent, 27 February 1896, p. 2

Text: Our readers may probably remember the old “Wheel of Life,” and they are more likely still to be familiar with Edison’s kinetoscope. An instrument which is a further development of the principle of both these inventions is now on show in London, which is as far ahead of the kinetoscope as the kinetoscope was of the wheel of life. This is the cinematograph, which may be seen any day from 2 p.m. onwards at the Marlborough Rooms, in Regent Street. It is the invention of Messrs. August and Louis Lumiere, and is now shown for the first time in England, although it has been attracting crowds in Paris for a month past. It is impossible to describe the extraordinary effects produced. You enter a hall which is darkened, and where you can sit in comfort, without screwing up your eyes and peering (in a very uncomfortable position as was the case with the kinetoscope) into two tiny holes. At the end of the hall is a large white screen upon which the pictures are thrown, and the illusion is so complete that you appear to be looking through a window at something actually occurring in the next street. First of all you are shown a factory. The gates are open. Then the girls pour out, laughing and (apparently) talking. Then a boy comes out, jumps on a bicycle, and rides off. Suddenly a pair of doors are thrown back, the crowd opens, and a brougham is driven out, and so on. Then you are shown a railway station; a train is seen in the distance. It comes nearer and nearer. You see the steam from the funnel and valves, and you can almost imagine you hear the puffing of the engine. The train comes to a stand, the passengers jump out, and the whole platform is full of life and activity. Porters rush up and down, and the arrivals are greeted by their friends. Then the scene changes to a garden. The gardener has a hose in his hands. He turns a cock and you see the spray as it leaves the hose, flying all over the trees and shrubs. Then there comes a little comic relief. Somebody comes behind the gardener, and tilts up the hose, and sends the water into his face, blowing his hat off. After this comes a picture of three men playing at écarté. They are smoking, a whiffs of smoke from their cigarettes are seen in the still air curling round their heads. They shuffle and deal the cards, the stakes are paid over, the loser looks glum, and the winner slaps him on the back. But the most extraordinary and remarkable scene is the last. You are apparently looking at the sea. The long rollers come tumbling in. A party of bathers run along the springboard and take headers. The waves dash against the rocks, the foam flies up into the air, and you expect every moment to see the water pouring into the hall. There are other pictures shown, all of which are interesting, and the exhibition is of so entirely novel and pleasing a character that it will well repay a visit, affording as it does remarkable evidence of what science can do to deceive the senses.

Comments: The Lumière Cinématographe projector premiered in the UK at the Marlborough Hall within the Polytechnic Institute in Regent Street, London on 20 February. The ‘large’ screen was 6 feet by 4 foot 6 inches. The films described are Sortie de l’usine (1895), L’arrivée d’un train (1896), L’arroseur arrosé (1895), Partie d’écarté (1896) and Baignade en mer (1895). The ‘Wheel of Life’ is another name for the Zoetrope. My thanks to Deac Rossell for bringing this account to my attention.

Life, Letters and Diary of Horatio Hollis Hunnewell

Source: Horatio Hollis Hunnewell, Life, Letters and Diary of Horatio Hollis Hunnewell, born July 27, 1810; died May 20, 1902; with a short history of the Hunnewell and Welles families, and an account of the Wellesley and Natick estates (New York, The De Vinne press, 1906), p. 223

Text: 25 December 1897

Christmas day. Coldest day so far; thermometer 8°. Had our usual family gathering, — twenty at the large table and ten at the small one at dinner. Charlotte Sorchan and Isabella Harriman, with their husbands, came on from New York. In the evening had dancing and a kinetoscope entertainment.

Comments: Horatio Hollis Hunnewell (1810-1902) was an American banker, horticulturalist and philanthropist. His diary entry is a very early record of a home cinema entertainment. The use of the word ‘kinetoscope’ probably indicates motion pictures in general, rather than the Kinetoscope peepshow itself, and the entertainment is likely to have been projected on a screen. At the time he was resident at Wellesley, Norfolk County, Massachusetts.

Links: Copy at Hathi Trust

The Kinetoscope of Time

Source: Brander Matthews, ‘The Kinetoscope of Time’, Scribner’s Magazine, December 1895, pp. 733-745, reproduced in his Tales of Fantasy and Fact (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1896), pp. 27-53

Text: As the twelfth stroke of the bell in the tower at the corner tolled forth slowly, the midnight wind blew chill down the deserted avenue, and swept it clear of all belated wayfarers. The bare trees in the thin strip of park clashed their lifeless branches; the river far below slipped along silently. There was no moon, and the stars were shrouded. It was a black night. Yet far in the distance there was a gleam of cheerful light which lured me on and on. I could not have said why it was that I had ventured forth at that hour on such a night. It seemed to me as though the yellow glimmer I beheld afar off was the goal of my excursion. Something within whispered to me then that I need go no farther when once I had come to the spot whence the soft glare proceeded.

The pall of darkness was so dense that I could not see the sparse houses I chanced to pass, nor did I know where I was any more. I urged forward blindly, walking towards the light, which was all that broke the blackness before me; its faint illumination seemed to me somehow to be kindly, inviting, irresistible. At last I came to a halt in front of a building I had never before seen, although I thought myself well acquainted with that part of the city. It was a circular edifice, or so it seemed to me then; and I judged that it had but a single story, or two, at the most. The door stood open to the street; and it was from this that the light was cast. So dim was this illumination now I had come to it that I marvelled I could have seen it at all afar off as I was when first I caught sight of it.

While I stood at the portal of the unsuspected edifice, peering doubtfully within, wondering to what end I had been led thither, and hesitating as to my next step, I felt again the impulse to go forward. At that moment tiny darts of fire, as it were, glowed at the end of the hall that opened before me, and they ran together rapidly and joined in liquid lines and then faded as suddenly as they had come but not too soon for me to read the simple legend they had written in the air an invitation to me, so I interpreted it, to go forward again, to enter the building, and to see for myself why I had been enticed there.

Without hesitation I obeyed. I walked through the doorway, and I became conscious that the door had closed behind me as I pressed forward. The passage was narrow and but faintly lighted; it bent to the right with a circular sweep as though it skirted the inner circumference of the building; still curving, it sank by a gentle gradient; and then it rose again and turned almost at right angles. Pushing ahead resolutely, although in not a little doubt as to the meaning of my adventure, I thrust aside a heavy curtain, soft to the hand. Then I found myself just inside a large circular hall. Letting the hangings fall behind me, I took three or four irresolute paces which brought me almost to the centre of the room. I saw that the walls were continuously draped with the heavy folds of the same soft velvet, so that I could not even guess where it was I had entered. The rotunda was bare of all furniture; there was no table in it, no chair, no sofa; nor was anything hanging from the ceiling or against the curtained walls. All that the room contained was a set of four curiously shaped narrow stands, placed over against one another at the corners of what might be a square drawn within the circle of the hall. These narrow stands were close to the curtains; they were perhaps a foot wide, each of them, or it might be a little more: they were twice or three times as long as they were wide; and they reached a height of possibly three or four feet.

Going towards one of these stands to examine it more curiously, I discovered that there were two projections from the top, resembling eye-pieces, as though inviting the beholder to gaze into the inside of the stand. Then I thought I heard a faint metallic click above my head. Raising my eyes swiftly, I read a few words written, as it were, against the dark velvet of the heavy curtains in dots of flame that flowed one into the other and melted away in a moment. When this mysterious legend had faded absolutely, I could not recall the words I had read in the fitful and flitting letters of fire, and yet I retained the meaning of the message; and I understood that if I chose to peer through the eye-pieces I should see a succession of strange dances.

To gaze upon dancing was not what I had gone forth to do, but I saw no reason why I should not do so, as I was thus strangely bidden. I lowered my head until my eyes were close to the two openings at the top of the stand. I looked into blackness at first, and yet I thought that I could detect a mystic commotion of the invisible particles at which I was staring. I made no doubt that, if I waited, in due season the promise would be fulfilled. After a period of expectancy which I could not measure, infinitesimal sparks darted hither and thither, and there was a slight crackling sound. I concentrated my attention on what I was about to see; and in a moment more I was rewarded.

The darkness took shape and robed itself in color; and there arose out of it a spacious banquet-hall, where many guests sat at supper. I could not make out whether they were Romans or Orientals; the structure itself had a Latin solidity, but the decorations were Eastern in their glowing gorgeousness. The hall was illumined by hanging lamps, by the light of which I tried to decide whether the ruler who sat in the seat of honor was a Roman or an Oriental. The beautiful woman beside him struck me as Eastern beyond all question. While I gazed intently he turned to her and proffered a request. She smiled acquiescence, and there was a flash of anticipated triumph in her eye as she beckoned to a menial and sent him forth with a message. A movement as of expectancy ran around the tables where the guests sat at meat. The attendants opened wide the portals and a young girl came forward. She was perhaps fourteen or fifteen years of age, but in the East women ripen young, and her beauty was indisputable. She had large, deep eyes and a full mouth; and there was a chain of silver and golden coins twisted into her coppery hair. She was so like to the woman who sat beside the ruler that I did not doubt them to be mother and daughter. At a word from the elder the younger began to dance; and her dance was Oriental, slow at first, but holding every eye with its sensual fascination. The girl was a mistress of the art; and not a man in the room withdrew his gaze from her till she made an end and stood motionless before the ruler. He said a few words I could not hear, and then the daughter turned to the mother for guidance; and again I caught the flash of triumph in the elder woman’s eye and on her face the suggestion of a hatred about to be glutted. And then the light faded and the darkness settled down on the scene and I saw no more. I did not raise my head from the stand, for I felt sure that this was not all I was to behold; and in a few moments there was again a faint scintillation. In time the light was strong enough for me to perceive the irregular flames of a huge bonfire burning in an old square of some mediaeval city. It was evening, and yet a throng of men and women and children made an oval about the fire and about a slim girl who had spread a Persian carpet on the rough stones of the broad street. She was a brunette, with dense black hair; she wore a striped skirt, and a jacket braided with gold had slipped from her bare shoulders. She held a tambourine in her hand and she was twisting and turning in cadence to her own song. Then she went to one side where stood a white goat with gilded horns and put down her tambourine and took up two swords; and with these in her hands she resumed her dance. A man in the throng, a man of scant thirty-five, but already bald, a man of stalwart frame, fixed hot eyes upon her; and from time to time a smile and a sigh met on his lips, but the smile was more dolorous than the sigh. And as the gypsy girl ceased her joyous gyrations, the bonfire died out, and darkness fell on the scene again, and I could no longer see anything.

Again I waited, and after an interval no longer than the other there came a faint glow that grew until I saw clearly as in the morning sun the glade of a forest through which a brook rippled. A sad-faced woman sat on a stone by the side of the streamlet; her gray garments set off the strange ornament in the fashion of a single letter of the alphabet that was embroidered in gold and in scarlet over her heart. Visible at some distance was a little girl, like a bright-apparelled vision, in a sunbeam, which fell down upon her through an arch of boughs. The ray quivered to and fro, making her figure dim or distinct, now like a real child, now like a child’s spirit, as the splendor came and went. With violets and anemones and columbines the little girl had decorated her hair. The mother looked at the child and the child danced and sparkled and prattled airily along the course of the streamlet, which kept up a babble, kind, quiet, soothing, but melancholy. Then the mother raised her head as though her ears had detected the approach of someone through the wood. But before I could see who this newcomer might be, once more the darkness settled down upon the scene.

This time I knew the interval between the succeeding visions and I waited without impatience; and in due season I found myself gazing at a picture as different as might be from any I had yet beheld.

In the broad parlor of a house that seemed to be spacious, a middle-aged lady, of an appearance at once austere and kindly, was looking at a smiling gentleman who was coming towards her pulling along a little negro girl about eight or nine years of age. She was one of the blackest of her race; and her round, shining eyes, glittering as glass beads, moved with quick and restless glances over everything in the room. Her woolly hair was braided in sundry little tails, which stuck out in every direction. She was dressed in a single filthy, ragged garment, made of bagging; and altogether there was something odd and goblin-like about her appearance. The severe old maid examined this strange creature in dismay and then directed a glance of inquiry at the gentleman in white. He smiled again and gave a signal to the little negro girl. Whereupon the black eyes glittered with a kind of wicked drollery, and apparently she began to sing, keeping time with her hands and feet, spinning round, clapping her hands, knocking her knees together, in a wild, fantastic sort of time; and finally, turning a somersault or two, she came suddenly down on the carpet, and stood with her hands folded, and a most sanctimonious expression of meekness and solemnity over her face, only broken by the cunning glances which she shot askance from the corners of her eyes. The elderly lady stood silent, perfectly paralyzed with amazement, while the smiling gentleman in white was amused at her astonishment.

Once more the vision faded. And when, after the same interval, the darkness began to disappear again, even while everything was dim and indistinct I knew that the scene was shifted from the South to the North. I saw a room comfortably furnished, with a fire smouldering in a porcelain stove. In a corner stood a stripped Christmas-tree, with its candles burned out. Against the wall between the two doors was a piano, on which a man was playing a man who twisted his head now and again to look over his shoulder, sometimes at another and younger man standing by the stove, sometimes at a young woman who was dancing alone in the centre of the room. This young woman had draped herself in a long parti-colored shawl and she held a tambourine in her hand. There was in her eyes a look of fear, as of one conscious of an impending misfortune. As I gazed she danced more and more wildly. The man standing by the porcelain stove was apparently making suggestions, to which she paid no heed. At last her hair broke loose and fell over her shoulders; and even this she did not notice, going on with her dancing as though it were a matter of life and death. Then one of the doors opened and another woman stood on the threshold. The man at the piano ceased playing and left the instrument. The dancer paused unwillingly, and looked pleadingly up into the face of the younger man as he came forward and put his arm around her.

And then once more the light died away and I found myself peering into a void blackness. This time, though I waited long, there were no crackling sparks announcing another inexplicable vision. I peered intently into the stand, but I saw nothing. At last I raised my head and looked about me. Then on the hangings over another of the four stands, over the one opposite to that into which I had been looking, there appeared another message, the letters melting one into another in lines of liquid light; and this told me that in the other stand I could, if I chose, gaze upon combats as memorable as the delectable dances I had been beholding.

I made no hesitation, but crossed the room and took my place before the other stand and began at once to look through the projecting eye-pieces. No sooner had I taken this position than the dots of fire darted across the depth into which I was gazing; and then there came a full clear light as of a cloudless sky, and I saw the walls of an ancient city. At the gates of the city there stood a young man, and toward him there ran a warrior, brandishing a spear, while the bronze of his helmet and his armor gleamed in the sunlight. And trembling seized the young man and he fled in fear; and the warrior darted after him, trusting in his swift feet. Valiant was the flier, but far mightier he who fleetingly pursued him. At last the young man took heart and made a stand against the warrior. They faced each other in fight. The warrior hurled his spear and it went over the young man’s head. And the young man then hurled his spear in turn and it struck fair upon the centre of the warrior’s shield. Then the young man drew his sharp sword that by his flank hung great and strong. But by some magic the warrior had recovered his spear; and as the young man came forward he hurled it again, and it drove through the neck of the young man at the joint of his armor, and he fell in the dust. After that the sun was darkened; and in a moment more I was looking into an empty blackness.

When again the light returned it was once more with the full blaze of mid-day that the scene was illumined, and the glare of the sun was reflected from the burning sands of the desert. Two or three palms arose near a well, and there two horsemen faced each other warily. One was a Christian knight in a coat of linked mail, over which he wore a surcoat of embroidered cloth, much frayed and bearing more than once the arms of the wearer a couchant leopard. The other was a Saracen, who was circling swiftly about the knight of the leopard. The crusader suddenly seized the mace which hung at his saddle-bow, and with a strong hand and unerring aim sent it crashing against the head of his foe, who raised his buckler of rhinoceros-hide in time to save his life, though the force of the blow bore him from the saddle. The knight spurred his steed forward, but the Saracen leaped into his seat again without touching the stirrup. While the Christian recovered his mace, the infidel withdrew to a little distance and strung the short bow he carried at his back. Then he circled about his foe, whose armor stood him in good stead, until the seventh shaft apparently found a less perfect part, and the Christian dropped heavily from his horse. But the dismounted Oriental found himself suddenly in the grasp of the European, who had recourse to this artifice to bring his enemy within his reach. The Saracen was saved again by his agility; and loosing his sword-belt, which the knight had grasped, he mounted his watching horse. He had lost his sword and his arrows and his turban, and these disadvantages seemed to incline him for a truce. He approached the Christian with his right hand extended, but no longer in a menacing attitude. What the result of this proffer of a parley might be I could not observe, for the figures became indistinct, as though a cloud had settled down on them; and in a few seconds more all was blank before me.

When the next scene grew slowly into view I thought for a moment it might be a continuation of the preceding, for the country I beheld was also soaking in the hot sunlight of the South, and there was also a mounted knight in armor. A second glance undeceived me. This knight was old and thin and worn, and his armor was broken and pieced, and his helmet was but a barber’s basin, and his steed was a pitiful skeleton. His countenance was sorrowful indeed, but there was that in his manner which would stop any man from denying his nobility. His eye was fired with a high purpose and a lofty resolve. In the distance before him were a group of windmills waving their arms in the air, and the knight urged forward his wretched horse as though to charge them. Upon an ass behind him was a fellow of the baser sort, a genial, simple follower, seemingly serving him as his squire. As the knight pricked forward his sorry steed and couched his lance, the attendant apparently appealed to him, and tried to explain, and even ventured on expostulation. But the knight gave no heed to the protests of the squire, who shook his head and dutifully followed his master. What the issue of this unequal combat was to be I could not see, for the inexorable veil of darkness fell swiftly.

Even after the stray sparks had again flitted through the blackness into which I was gazing daylight did not return, and it was with difficulty I was able at last to make out a vague street in a mediaeval city doubtfully outlined by the hidden moon. From a window high above the stones there came a faint glimmer. Under this window stood a soldier worn with the wars, who carried himself as though glad now to be at home again. He seemed to hear approaching feet, and he withdrew into the shadow as two others advanced. One of these was a handsome youth with an eager face, in which spirituality and sensuality contended. The other was older, of an uncertain age, and his expression was mocking and evil; he carried some sort of musical instrument, and to this he seemed to sing while the younger man looked up at the window. The soldier came forward angrily and dashed the instrument to the ground with his sword. Then the newcomers drew also, and the elder guarded while the younger thrust. There were a few swift passes, and then the younger of the two lunged fiercely, and the soldier fell back on the stones wounded to the death. Without a glance behind them, the two who had withstood his onslaught withdrew, as the window above opened and a fair-haired girl leaned forth.

Then nothing was visible, until after an interval the light once more returned and I saw a sadder scene than any yet. In a hollow of the bare mountains a little knot of men in darkblue uniforms were centred about their commander, whose long locks floated from beneath his broad hat. Around this small band of no more than a score of soldiers, thousands of red Indians were raging, with exultant hate in their eyes. The bodies of dead comrades lay in narrowing circles about the thinning group of blue-coats. The red men were picking off their few surviving foes, one by one; and the white men could do nothing, for their cartridges were all gone. They stood at bay, valiant and defiant, despite their many wounds; but the line of their implacable foemen was drawn tighter and tighter about them, and one after another they fell forward dying or dead, until at last only the long-haired commander was left, sore wounded but unconquered in spirit.

When this picture of strong men facing death fearlessly was at last dissolved into darkness like the others that had gone before, I had an inward monition that it was the last that would be shown me; and so it was, for although I kept ray place at the stand for two or three minutes more, no warning sparks dispersed the opaque depth.

When I raised my head from the eye-pieces, I became conscious that I was not alone. Almost in the centre of the circular hall stood a middle-aged man of distinguished appearance, whose eyes were fixed upon me. I wondered who he was, and whence he had come, and how he had entered, and what it might be that he wished with me. I caught a glimpse of a smile that lurked vaguely on his lips. Neither this smile nor the expression of his eyes was forbidding, though both were uncanny and inexplicable. He seemed to be conscious of a remoteness which would render futile any effort of his towards friendliness.

How long we stood thus staring the one at the other I do not know. My heart beat heavily and my tongue refused to move when at last I tried to break the silence.

Then he spoke, and his voice was low and strong and sweet.

“You are welcome,” he began, and I noted that the accent was slightly foreign, Italian perhaps, or it might be French. “I am glad always to show the visions I have under my control to those who will appreciate them.”

I tried to stammer forth a few words of thanks and of praise for what I had seen.

“Did you recognize the strange scenes shown to you by these two instruments?” he asked, after bowing gently in acknowledgment of my awkward compliments.

Then I plucked up courage and made bold to express to him the surprise I had felt, not only at the marvellous vividness with which the actions had been repeated before my eyes, like life itself in form and in color and in motion, but also at the startling fact that some of the things I had been shown were true and some were false. Some of them had happened actually to real men and women of flesh and blood, while others were but bits of vain imagining of those who tell tales as an art and as a means of livelihood.

I expressed myself as best I could, clumsily, no doubt; but he listened patiently and with the smile of toleration on his lips.

“Yes,” he answered, “I understand your surprise that the facts and the fictions are mingled together in these visions of mine as though there was little to choose between them. You are not the first to wonder or to express that wonder; and the rest of them were young like you. When you are as old as I am when you have lived as long as I when you have seen as much of life as I then you will know, as I know, that fact is often inferior to fiction, and that it is often also one and the same thing; for what might have been is often quite as true as what actually was?”

I did not know what to say in answer to this, and so I said nothing.

“What would you say to me,” he went on and now it seemed to me that his smile suggested rather pitying condescension than kindly toleration “what would you say to me, if I were to tell you that I myself have seen all the many visions unrolled before you in these instruments? What would you say, if I declared that I had gazed on the dances of Salome and of Esmeralda? that I had beheld the combat of Achilles and Hector and the mounted fight of Saladin and the Knight of the Leopard?”

“You are not Time himself?” I asked in amaze.

He laughed lightly, and without bitterness or mockery.

“No,” he answered, promptly, “I am not Time himself. And why should you think so? Have I a scythe? Have I an hour-glass? Have I a forelock? Do I look so very old, then?”

I examined him more carefully to answer this last question, and the more I scrutinized him the more difficult I found it to declare his age. At first I had thought him to be forty, perhaps, or of a certainty less than fifty. But now, though his hair was black, though his eye was bright, though his step was firm, though his gestures were free and sweeping, I had my doubts ; and I thought I could perceive, one after another, many impalpable signs of extreme old age.

Then, all at once, he grew restive under my fixed gaze.

“But it is not about me that we need to waste time now,” he said, impatiently. “You have seen what two of my instruments contain; would you like now to examine the contents of the other two?”

I answered in the affirmative.

“The two you have looked into are gratuitous,” he continued. “For what you beheld in them there is no charge. But a sight of the visions in the other two or in either one of them must be paid for. So far, you are welcome as my guest; but if you wish to see any more you must pay the price.”

I asked what the charge was, as I thrust my hand into my pocket to be certain that I had my purse with me.

He saw my gesture, and he smiled once more.

“The visions I can set before you in those two instruments you have not yet looked into are visions of your own life,” he said. “In that stand there,” and he indicated one behind my back, “you can see five of the most important episodes of your past.”

I withdrew my hand from my pocket. “I thank you,” I said, “but I know my own past, and I have no wish to see it again, however cheap the spectacle.”

“Then you will be more interested in the fourth of my instruments,” he said, as he waved his thin, delicate hand towards the stand which stood in front of me. “In this you can see your future!”

I made an involuntary step forward; and then, at a second thought, I shrank back again.

“The price of this is not high,” he continued, “and it is not payable in money.”

“How, then, should I buy it?” I asked, doubtingly.

“In life!” he answered, gravely. “The vision of life must be paid for in life itself. For every ten years of the future which I may unroll before you here, you must assign me a year of life twelve months to do with as I will.”

Strange as it seems to me now, I did not doubt that he could do as he declared. I hesitated, and then I fixed my resolve.

“Thank you,” I said, and I saw that he was awaiting my decision eagerly. “Thank you again for what I have already seen and for what you proffer me. But my past I have lived once, and there is no need to turn over again the leaves of that dead record. And the future I must face as best I may, the more bravely, I think, that I do not know what it holds in store for me.”

“The price is low,” he urged.

“It must be lower still,” I answered ; “it might be nothing at all, and I should still decline. I cannot afford to be impatient now and to borrow knowledge of the future. I shall know all in good time.”

He seemed not a little disappointed as I said this.

Then he made a final appeal: “Would you not wish to know even the matter of your end ?”

” No,” I answered. “That is no temptation to me, for whatever it may be I must find fortitude to undergo it somehow, whether I am to pass away in my sleep in my bed, or whether I shall have to withstand the chances of battle and murder and sudden death.”

“That is your last word?” he inquired.

“I thank you again for what I have seen,” I responded, bowing again; “but my decision is final.”

“Then I will detain you no longer,” he said, haughtily, and he walked towards the circling curtains and swept two of them aside. They draped themselves back, and I saw before me an opening like that through which I had entered.

I followed him, and the curtains dropped behind me as I passed into the insufficiently illuminated passage beyond. I thought that the mysterious being with whom I had been conversing had preceded me, but before I had gone twenty paces I found that I was alone. I pushed ahead, and my path twisted and turned on itself and rose and fell irregularly like that by means of which I had made my way into the unknown edifice. At last I picked my steps down winding stairs, and at the foot I saw the outline of a door. I pushed it back, and I found myself in the open air.

I was in a broad street, and over my head an electric light suddenly flared out and white-washed the pavement at my feet. At the corner a train of the elevated railroad rushed by with a clattering roar and a trailing plume of white steam. Then a cable-car clanged past with incessant bangs upon its gong. Thus it was that I came back to the world of actuality.

I turned to get my bearings, that I might find my way home again. I was standing almost in front of a shop, the windows of which were filled with framed engravings.

One of these caught my eye, and I confess that I was surprised. It was a portrait of a man it was a portrait of the man with whom I had been talking.

I went close to the window, that I might see it better. The electric light emphasized the lines of the high-bred face, with its sombre searching eyes and the air of old-world breeding. There could be no doubt whatever that the original of this portrait was the man from whom I had just parted. By the costume I knew that the original had lived in the last century; and the legend beneath the head, engraved in a flowing script, asserted this to be a likeness of “Monsieur le Comte de Cagliostro.”

Comments: James Brander Matthews (1852-1929) was an American author, Professor of Literature at Columbia University, and America’s first professor of drama. His 1895 short story ‘The Kinetoscope of Time’ has become famous in early cinema studies for its prescient vision of the cinematic experience, and its speculation on the relationship between cinema and the perception of time. In December 1895, aside for a handful of test screenings, projected film shows were still in the future, with films being made available to the public via the peepshow Kinetoscope in parlours much like the hall in Matthews’ story. The ‘films’ or visions that he witnesses are dance of Salomé, Hester Prynne and Little Pearl from Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, Topsy dancing in Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Nora in Ibsen’s A Doll’s House, the fight between Achilles and Hector, Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, the duel of Faust and Valentine, and Custer’s Last Stand. A number of these because the subjects of early films. Cagliostro was an 18th century Italian occultist.

Links: Copy of Tales of Fantasy and Fact at the Internet Archive
Copy of the text from Scribner’s Magazine at Cornell University Library (with original illustrations but some of the first paragraphs missing)

Our London Letter

Source: ‘Our London Letter’, The Star, St. Peter Port, Guernsey, 19 March 1896, p. 2

Text: The season has begun in good earnest, and promises to be a most interesting one, with its kaleidoscopic developments in dress, new discoveries, and dissipation generally. As we grow older, does life become more interesting? or less interesting? I am one of those who would have nothing in the past undone, and nothing repeated — on the whole. People say, one never wants to return to a house that one has once left: a wise old lady (of women the crossest, ugliest, and least life-enjoying, I thought as a fool, but now I know better, and I agree with her) told me that she wished nothing back, not her youth, not her belles années, not the brightest moments of her life. I hope, and think, that we shall feel the same when we are “on the other side”. That means that the interest of existence grows, and this year, certainly in science, new excitements are constantly unfolding.

What has chiefly electrified me — hardly delighted — it is too gravely suggestive — this month is the little Cinematograph at the old Polytechnic rooms, it is also going on at the Empire. Under this unpronounceable and unrememberable name M. Lumière transfers an elaborate form of the well-known Edison’s Kinetoscope by lantern slides to a sheet on which the picture suddenly springs into life, the men and women start walking, hustling each other, crossing each other, interrupting each other just as it happens — as did happen that moment — in life. The photographs I hear were taken at the rate of eighty to the minute, and, whilst the principle is not new, the representation of life-sized figures close to you, acting as human nature does act, the trivial and the significant all mixed up together, is totally new, and it is startling to see these congealed moments, as I may call them, suddenly become irrified at the turning of some Pygmalionic handle, the trees and bushes moving in the wind, the workpeople rushing out for dinner, mixed up with bicycles, carriages, dogs, and horses, you only miss the prattle and the argot. When the railway train flies at you, you feel quite nervous. One scene came up, “Papa, maman, et bébé.” As this is not everyone’s ideal of life, we expected little from a pair of proud parents at tea. But when with a sort of start the French mother began to pour out tea, and the French father to feed the French baby, and the baby to sputter over his food after the time-honoured fashion of babies not only in France, it was really too funny for anything. Every parent present knew the process, the bits of bread and milk that would not be rammed down by the spoon, the baby’s supreme indifference to the disgraceful mess on his nose, as he laughed up at his laughing parents — one got a glimpse of a scene as old as the hills, ever new, ever interesting to the principals — and the unconsciousness was the charm. Science now and then is quite terrifying with its hints: we have had ere this, theological, not to speak of other intimations, that something of the same sort on a larger scale is always going on, that not an action is forgotten, not an emotion lost, but once generated continues for ever along lines of etheric vibrations! If the dread Recording Angel with his Cinematograph is for ever and ever beside us, about our paths and about our beds, and spying out all our ways. If the secret blow, the small revenge, the shabby return, is to come out before our eyes some day with a horrible faithfulness, and the instant’s betrayal of “Mr. Hyde” is to condemn “Mr. Jekyll” as long as ever the Divine handle is turned, what is to become of us? Where in the world is turning over a new leaf, decent privacy, etiquette, and the rest of it? It is not at all a nice thought. And yet I was glad that the past never dies, and if it condemns us will justify us also, when I looked at the fascinating scenes of human nature that M. Lumière meant simply for our frolic! So the porter shouldered the bag, the youth waved his hat to his beloved, the lady shook out her dress, the irate gardener kicked the saucy boy who put his foot on the hose and stopped the flow, and we saw France as clearly as if we had gone there with a Cook’s ticket.

Comments: The piece comes from a Guernsey newspaper but reports on happenings in London. The Lumière Cinématographe projector premiered at the Polytechnic Institute in Regent Street on 20 February, and began its main engagement at the Empire, Leicester Square on 9 March 1896. Along the films described are Repas de bébé (1895), L’Arroseur arrosé (1895) and one of the L’arrivée d’un train films (1896). Robert Louis Stevenson’s Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde was published in 1886. My thanks to Deac Rossell for bringing this remarkable account to my attention.

Derby Castle

Source: ‘Derby Castle’, The Isle of Man Times and General Advertiser, 4 June 1895, p. 2

Text: One of the wonders of the age is on view at Derby Castle in the shape of the Kinetoscope, one of Edison’s latest inventions. Really, the capabilities of the thing are appalling. By its means the following, all working as if in life before the spectator, are shown: – Blacksmith’s shop, contortionist, cock fight, Highland dance, saloon (where a loafer raises a disturbance and is unceremoniously put out), Armand d’Ary (French chanteuse and danseuse, the latest Paris and New York “rage”), wrestling match, prize fight, tumbler, Carmencita, Sandow, reproduction of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West scenes, prize fights &c. Perhaps the simplest method of explanation will be to describe an actual scene. Among the many subjects thus far secured for the Kinetoscope is the interior of a barber’s shop. The beholder, who is looking down through the window of the Kinetoscope cabinet, sees the interior of a barber’s shop. A man is reclining upon a barber’s chair about to be shaved. The barber goes to his case, secures his cup, makes a lather with which he proceeds to lather the man’s face. Meanwhile, a coloured gentleman, who is probably acting in the capacity of a porter, boot-black, and Jack-of-all-trades, is moving about the room. He picks up a newspaper and sits down to read it. Another customer comes in; pulls off hat and coat; the smoke is plainly seen rising from his pipe; picks up a paper to read and await his turn. The coloured gentleman, aforesaid, finds something very funny in the newspaper he is reading, and thereupon he crosses the room and points out the amusing article to the waiting customer. They both laugh and show every sign of amusement. Meanwhile the barber has begun shaving his man, and both the “shaver” and the “shavee” have been going through many motions, the one plainly evincing his desire to hurry through the work of shaving and be ready for the “next”. Now, it should be understood that this is not an imaginary scene, emanating from the pencil or brush of some artist; but it is an accurate photograph of a scene which has actually taken place. Every movement, from the walking of the man across the floor, to the sweep of the razor, is recorded, and is witnessed by the beholder through the window of the Kinetoscope.

Comments: Derby Castle was a dance hall and entertainment venue in Douglas, Isle of Man. The Edison films mentioned include New Blacksmith Shop (1895), The Cock Fight (1894), Highland Dance (1894), A Bar Room Scene (1894), Armand D’Ary (1894), Wrestling Match (1894), Carmencita (1894), The Barber Shop (1893), Sandow (1894) and one of the series of Buffalo Bill films. My thanks to Deac Rossell for alerting me to this article.