Queen Victoria's Journals

Source: Queen Victoria’s journal entry for 28 June 1854

Text: We went after breakfast with the 4 Children & Ladies & Gentlemen to see Albert Smith’s “Ascent of Mont Blanc”, a panorama, which he describes, interspersed with anecdotes & wit of the most amusing kind, delivered with the most surprising volubility. The last song was inimitable. The views were extremely pretty & the room fitted up charmingly as a Châlet. The Performance took place at the Egyptian Hall.

Comments: Queen Victoria (1819-1901) records seeing panoramas several times in her journals. Albert Richard Smith (1816-1860) was a British entertainer, novelist and mountaineer. In 1851 he successfully ascended Mont Blanc, and a show devised and presented by Smith the following year about the expedition, at London’s Egyptian Hall, became one of the most renowned and popular entertainments of its time. The show, entitled Mr Albert Smith’s Ascent of Mont Blanc, opened on 15 March 1852. Smith’s talk of his adventures was illustrated by moving panoramas, painted by William Beverley, which moved horizontally for the section covering Smith journey to the Alps, and vertically for the ascent. The show ran for seven seasons six years, with each new season changing elements of of the presentation. The Swiss chalet was added to the staging for the second season.

Links: Queen Victoria’s Journals

My Eighty Years

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

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

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

Links: Copy at Internet Archive

Old Humphrey's Walks in London and its Neighbourhood

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Links: Copy at Hathi Trust

When the Viewing had to Stop

Source: Peter Ackroyd, ‘When the Viewing had to Stop’, in Peter Ackroyd (ed. Thomas Wright), The Collection: Journalism, Reviews, Essays, Short Stories, Lectures (London: Chatto & Windus, 2001), pp. 140-142 [orig. pub. The Spectator, 7 March 1987]

Text: There comes a time when Mr Pickwick, bewildered by the horrors of the Fleet Prison, announces that ‘I have seen enough … My head aches with these scenes, and my heart too. Henceforth I will be a prisoner in my own room.’ These are very much the sentiments of your film critic on abandonning his generally undistinguished and no doubt ineffective career; enough is enough. No more films set in what journalists call ‘Thatcher’s England’; no more tearful tributes to the elderly starring Katharine Hepburn; no more masterpieces with the subtitles in Americanese. And no more questions from the only mildly curious, on the lines of ‘What film is worth seeing?’ I never really knew. Yesterday I turned back to the pages of the Spectator in 1979 when I began to write film criticism, and I could recall nothing of the films I then either praised or damned. They had gone, vanished, disappeared. I usually find it difficult to recall even the film I saw in the previous week, so effortlessly to the images slip or slide away.

[…]

Perhaps more memorable than the films have been the cinemas themselves. There were ghastly places in north London, where health food was sold over the counter; there were dank crypts off the Tottenham Court Road which people used as refuges rather than as places of entertainment. But there were also some agreeable little spots, somehow removed from this world: the Minema is generally billed as the smallest cinema in London but it is also one of the most comfortable, and those who have a taste for macabre interiors should visit one of the auditoria of the Cannon Haymarket. And I regret the passing of the Academy, Oxford Street, which curiously resembled a toy theatre blown up out of all proportion.

And of course the cinema itself was always as important as any of the films being shown in it. The queuing, the buying of undrinkable coffee, the harridans bearing trays of ice-cream, the advertisements for Levi’s jeans and the Electricity Board, the warnings about one’s handbag, all furnished the slow and cosy passage into the filmic world. And yet even as I enjoyed these simple pleasures I was aware of the fact that they were essentially of an old-fashioned and even anachronistic sort – not ones, perhaps, which will survive the end of the century in their present form. I seemed to be participating in a social activity that was already past; I was still part of the audience that first went to the silent cinema in the twenties and I was certainly not part of that unimaginable future populace to whom the cinema will mean no more than the penny gaff or the diorama do to us.

Comments: Peter Ackroyd (1949 – ) is a British novelist, biographer and critic. He was film critic for the Spectator magazine from 1979 to 1987. The essay from which the above extracts are taken was written upon his giving up being a film critic.

My Wonderful Visit

Source: Charlie Chaplin, My Wonderful Visit (London: Hurst & Blackett, 1922), pp. 142-143

Text: Wells and I go into the dark projection room and I sit with Wells. I feel on my mettle almost immediately, sitting at his side, and I feel rather glad that we are spending our first moments in an atmosphere where I am at home. In his presence I feel critical and analytical and I decide to tell the truth about the picture at all costs. I feel that Wells would do the same thing about one of mine.

As the picture is reeling off I whisper to him my likes and dislikes, principally the faulty photography, though occasionally I detect bad direction. Wells remains perfectly silent and I begin to feel that I am not breaking the ice. It is impossible to get acquainted under these conditions. Thank God, I can keep silent, because there is the picture to watch and that saves the day.

Then Wells whispers, “Don’t you think the boy is good?”

The boy in question is right here on the other side of me, watching his first picture. I look at him. Just starting out on a new career, vibrant with ambition, eager to make good, and his first attempt being shown before such an audience. As I watch he is almost in tears, nervous and anxious.

The picture ends. There is a mob clustering about. Directors and officials look at me. They want my opinion of the picture. I shall be truthful. Shall I criticise? Wells nudges me and whispers, “Say something nice about the boy.” And I look at the boy and see what Wells has already seen and then I say the nice things about him. Wells’s kindness and consideration mean so much more than a mere picture.

Comments: Charles Spencer Chaplin (1889-1977) was a British comic film actor and director. He paid a visit to Britain, France and Germany in 1921 at the height of his fame. His acount of the trip, My Wonderful Visit, is strikingly introspective and frank account of the effects of mass fame. During his London visit he was invited to the offices of the Stoll film company in London to see a preview of Kipps (1921), a British film directed by the American Harold Shaw, starring George K. Arthur (the ‘boy’ referred to in this passage). He saw the film alongside H.G. Wells, on whose novel it was based. Arthur (who had made two films previously) went on to enjoy a moderately successful film career in America.

The Journals of Arnold Bennett

Source: Arnold Bennett, journal entry 6 March 1924, in Newman Flower (ed.), The Journals of Arnold Bennett: 1921-1928 (London: Cassell, 1933)

Text: Thursday, 6 March – German film last night at Polytechnic Cinema. One has the idea that all films are crowded. The balcony here was not 15% full. Front row, where Duff Tayler and I were, 8s. 6d. for 1½ hours’ entertainment. A gloomy place, with gloomy audience. No style or grace in them. All lower middle class or nearly so. The hall tricked out with a silly sort of an ikon, illuminated, of Death, to advertise or recall or illustrate the film. The orchestra most mediocre. Played all the time, and three performances a day! Hell for the players I should think. Also the habit of illustrating certain points musically, or noisily. The clock must strike, etc. And a special noise as a sort of leit motif for death. Lastly three small common Oriental mats (probably made in England) laid in front of the screen on the stage to indicate that much of the story was Oriental. The captions, etc, were appalling, and even misspelt, such as ‘extention’, ‘Soloman’ etc. The phrasing! Good God. The City of Yesteryear meant, I believe, the cemetery.

Comments: Arnold Bennett (1867-1931) was a British writer, best known for his novels of life in the Potteries with its ‘five towns’ that now equate with Stoke-on-Trent. The Polytechnic Cinema was part of what was originally the Royal Polytechnic Institution, a venue for popular science lectures and entertainments, which hosted the UK debut of the Lumière Cinématographe in February 1896. It operated as a cinema in the 1920s, and was recently re-furbished and relaunched as the Regent Street Cinema. The film Bennett saw was Fritz Lang’s Der müde Tod aka Destiny (Germany 1921), which features Death as a character and a sequence set in Persia.

The Life and Letters of Sir Edmund Gosse

Source: Edmund Gosse, letter to Lady Gosse, 20 September 1909, in Evan Charteris, The Life and Letters of Sir Edmund Gosse (London, W. Heinemann, 1931), p. 317

Text: My dearest,—
Here is a day of heavenly brightness at last. I do so rejoice in it for you. I should think that Beaulieu must look quite lovely. Yesterday, at 8 in the morning, before I was out of bed, Evan telegraphed to know whether I would go to the Theatre. I did not like to leave Tessa alone, but she insisted I should go, and I wanted to see Evan, who was only passing through London. He started for Russia by the Moscow express this morning. We dined at the Ritz — such a nice little dinner, cold soup, a trout, a grouse and some raspberries, nothing more — but we could not get any theatre tickets we cared about. So at 9.45 we went to the Empire music-hall, and saw a very clever and amusing ballet, Une Visite a Paris (with the famous Apache dance), and afterwards, on the bioscope, the aviation week at Rheims. You cannot think how extraordinarily interesting this last was. To see the strange aeroplanes run along, and then soar up into the sky, and wheel gracefully about like great sleepy insects — most curious! It gave me my first idea of what it is all really like.

Comments: Edmund Gosse (1848-1928) was a British author and autobiographer. The film he saw was probably Pathé’s coverage of the aviation meeting held at Rheims in France, 22-29 August 1909, which was widely for shown and which was for many people the first sight that they had had of an aeroplane.

Links: Copy at Hathi Trust

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

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

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

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

The Grand Mulets

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some Account of an Extraordinary Traveller

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Links: Available at Dickens Journals Online

Oh, Jolly 3-D!

Source: G.W. Stonier, ‘Oh, Jolly 3-D!’ in Pictures on the Pavement (London: Michael Joseph, 1955), pp. 140-143

Text: Of course, we all insisted we wouldn’t go, but there we were: some frankly excited, others holding aloof, a few remembering their first talkie with Al Jolson imploring the skies, and a very few that Edwardian dark-room at the end of a pier in which, while one enjoyed, say, a vision of rough seas, the theatre itself rolled and pitched. Great days, when custard-pies were custard-pies, and any bicycles without riders would make straight for, and through, the nearest china-shop.

But already the news – stale news from a flat world – was over, and the lights were up. We looked round. Distinguished strangers present: hurriedly we felt for our own spectacles, tried them on, blinked, dandled.

FOR YOUR FURTHER ENJOYMENT

came the beauteous lantern-slide on the screen,

OUR STAFF WILL NOW VISIT ALL PARTS OF THIS THEATRE

(that meant poor fat Annie – charladying days over – with her tray).

PLEASE KEEP TO YOUR SEATS

(which, with Annie, seemed not difficult).

So, sucking the ice-creams which represent, we are told, the sole source of profits to impoverished British film-mongers, we cooled our rising excitement.

Spectacles on! In the confusion old Dr. Crunchbones had his, I swear, upside down, so that probably he’d see everything hollow; but then he always had. Miss Tripp, smiling, had pocketed hers. To a roar of music the title flashed up, Thick Men; it didn’t merely flash, it floated; behind, with a mileage that made us suddenly feel our seats had been pulled from under us, was a man – a thick man – poised on parapet, who slowly leant forward and disappeared, leaving the recession of river, quay, skyscraper, and sunset, into which we might all have disappeared if the foreground titles hadn’t, like a sort of inflamed masonry, held us back. We were discovering who had played the banjo, and who fiddled the hair-do’s, when the splash from below hit us.

The film itself – but how can one hope to imprint such things? Enough that this one was well up, or down, to standard, having taken advantage of 3-D to get back to the heart of things: the heroine (rather charmingly 3-D, I thought) chewed gum and drawled ‘Oh, yeah?’ and the hero, always getting into fixes and out of them, would stop short to exclaim ‘Let’s go’ or ‘You can’t do this to me’; nor could they; ropes and writs wouldn’t hold him; for seven reels – here’s the moral – you may get away with murder, but the eighth will find you out, probably on top
of Chicago’s highest skyscraper. He had an engaging habit, this swell guy, of blowing smoke-rings over us. For 3-D you must know, works forwards as well as backwards. Half the time they were sticking out elbows over the stalls or reclining their feet on the circle, and when the whole mob pulled guns you were fortunate if the muzzles nudged past you to someone else’s waistcoat behind. This – with some relief brought the first interlude.

And there we were, looking like Sunday afternoon on the Brighton front, and remarking ‘Wonderful,’ ‘Better than grandpa’s stereoscope,’ ‘But when they move at all quickly they seem to go off-kind of crinkly, ’ ‘Just as well, I couldn’t stand much more.’

Resuming, we were double-crossed, followed and frisked, run over, dangled from heights, swept to the wail of police sirens through satiny night, plunged into the glory of a night-club-the thick man’s (and woman’s) hide-out. Cops were there too; thicker and thicker; not even they knew one from t’other. We watched from the little high grille in the boss’s office. He was getting that eighth-reel feeling; the heights were calling. ‘Let’s go,’ a farewell to his lady – her lips protruding, filling the theatre like hippopotamus lips – second interlude.

‘Phew!’ ‘She loves him, though, doesn’t she?’ ‘What good’s that, his best friend’s a cop, see?’ ‘Colour a bit patchy.’ ‘Oh, well, can’t expect everything.’

Off again. Bang-bang. He must climb seventy-six floors, and the lift out of order. With that cop close behind. ‘My pal,’ he snarls over his shoulder, as he leaps for the fire-escape.

There’s a scream. ‘He’s pinched my spectacles, the beast!’ ‘What?’ ‘Liar!’ ‘Who?’ ‘Give ’em back!’ ‘Let go!’ ‘Swine!’ ‘I’ll inform the management!’ And in less than no time, followed by more bang-bangs, we were all out in the street shouting, struggling.

Well I wonder. These thick men – who in their time have been jittery, silent men, and then sleek yap-yap or sing-song men, and sometimes, amazingly, rainbow men whisked from beef-red to cheese-green in a trice – I don’t quite know how they’re going to take to their new freedom. Suppose, during a matinee – it’s been a long while coming -one of them were simply to walk off the screen? Would the rest follow? Should we have fugitive Neros, Henry ploughing through the stalls after Anne Boleyn, stampedes from chain-gangs, Carthage, the Titanic? Will there be an end to the Civil War, both sides deserting? It remains to be seen; if need be, resisted. 3-D has come to the local.

Comments: George Walter Stonier (1903-1985) was a British novelist, critic and journalist. His Pictures on the Pavement is a series of short, lightly humorous essays on aspects of London life. There was no 3D feature film called Thick Men, and I cannot identify what film it might be. There was a short-lived boom for stereoscopic feature films in the mid-1950s employing dual-strip projection, requiring audiences to wear special spectacles and intermissions needed for reel changeovers.