The Adventures of Ferdinand Count Fathom

Source: Tobias Smollett, The Adventures of Ferdinand Count Fathom (New York: The Jenson Society, 1907 – org. pub. 1753)

Text: The Major, finding him determined, insisted upon attending him in this expedition, and they set out together for Presburg, where they privately arrived in the dark, resolving to keep themselves concealed at the house of a friend, until they should have formed some plan for their future operations. Here they were informed that Count Trebasi’s castle was altogether inaccessible; that all the servants who were supposed to have the least veneration or compassion for the Countess were dismissed; and that, since Renaldo was known to be in Germany, the vigilance and caution of that cruel husband was redoubled to such a degree, that nobody knew whether his unfortunate lady was actually alive or dead.

Farrel perceiving Melvil exceedingly affected with this intimation, and hearing him declare that he would never quit Presburg until he should have entered the house, and removed his doubts on that interesting subject, not only argued with great vehemence against such an attempt, as equally dangerous and indiscreet, but solemnly swore he would prevent his purpose, by discovering his design to the family, unless he would promise to listen to a more moderate and feasible expedient. He then proposed that he himself should appear in the equipage of one of the travelling Savoyards who stroll about Europe, amusing ignorant people with the effects of a magic lanthorn, and in that disguise endeavour to obtain admittance from the servants of Trebasi, among whom he might make such inquiries as would deliver Melvil from his present uneasy suspense.

This proposal was embraced, though reluctantly, by Renaldo, who was unwilling to expose his friend to the least danger or disgrace; and the Major being next day provided with the habit and implements of his new profession, together with a ragged attendant who preceded him, extorting music from a paltry viol, approached the castle gate, and proclaimed his show so naturally in a yell, partaking of the scream of Savoy and the howl of Ireland, that one would have imagined he had been conductor to Madam Catherina from his cradle. So far his stratagem succeeded; he had not long stood in waiting before he was invited into the court-yard, where the servants formed a ring, and danced to the efforts of his companion’s skill; then he was conducted into the buttery, where he exhibited his figures on the wall, and his princess on the floor; and while they regaled him in this manner with scraps and sour wine, he took occasion to inquire about the old lady and her daughter, before whom he said he had performed in his last peregrination. Though this question was asked with all that air of simplicity which is peculiar to these people, one of the domestics took the alarm, being infected with the suspicions of his master, and plainly taxed the Major with being a spy, threatening at the same time that he should be stripped and searched.

This would have been a very dangerous experiment for the Hibernian, who had actually in his pocket a letter to the Countess from her son, which he hoped fortune might have furnished him with an opportunity to deliver. When he therefore found himself in this dilemma, he was not at all easy in his own mind. However, instead of protesting his innocence in an humble and beseeching strain, in order to acquit himself of the charge, he resolved to elude the suspicion by provoking the wrath of his accuser, and, putting on the air of vulgar integrity affronted, began to reproach the servant in very insolent terms for his unfair supposition, and undressed himself in a moment to the skin, threw his tattered garments in the face of his adversary, telling him he would find nothing there which he would not be very glad to part with; at the same time raising his voice, he, in the gibberish of the clan he represented, scolded and cursed with great fluency, so that the whole house resounded with the noise. The valet’s jealousy, like a smaller fire, was in a trice swallowed up in the greater flame of his rage enkindled by this abrupt address. In consequence of which, Farrel was kicked out at the gate, naked as he was to the waist, after his lanthorn had been broke to pieces on his head; and there he was joined by his domestic, who had not been able to recover his apparel and effect a retreat, without incurring marks of the same sort of distinction.

Comments: Tobias Smollett (1721-1771) was a British novelist. The Adventures of Ferdinand Count Fathom, published in 1973, is a picaresque novel of the kind in which Smollett specialised, featuring an amoral character who swindles and cheats his way across Europe. It is not among Smollett’s best-known nor more successful works, but does provide this intriguing short account of travelling magic lanternists and how their show was received. Presburg is modern-day Bratislava in Slovakia, but at the time in which this text is set it was part of the Kingdom of Hungary.

Links: Copy at Project Gutenberg

Strange Truth

Source: James MacKenzie, Strange Truth: The Autobiography of a Circus, Showman, Stage & Exhibition Man [n.d] [manuscript, two volumes] (Brunel University, 1-473), vol. 1, pp. 242-246

Text: The Living Pictures had arrived. I determined to get a machine and films. I soon got the information they were only showing at Music Halls, but I hear some showmen are going to have them. I was nearly first.

The machine and two hundred and fifty feet of film only from the pioneers of Film making in England you had to buy the films then!

I was soon equipped with a booth and a lorry, cylinders of Oxy-Hydrogen gas, for the limelight to show the films, a powerful light was needed.

I find a place to open, & the Whit Monday to follow, a man, and my wife and myself, it took me very little time to know all about the machine. I tried it out, all was O.K.

I opened at a Gala, and I showed over forty times that day the show only lasted a few minutes but they were Living Pictures.

It took longer to wind the film out of the bag (note – There was no self winding on a Spool in the front of the Machine at that time) where it went. Wo[r]se than the performance, and the “Music” was the rattle of the machine, which sounded like a steam roller.

My two chaps and myself bawling outside, and telling a short tale inside and working the machine in full view of the audience, with all the curiosity of this new invention, in a few minutes the show was over, but they had seen the latest invention living pictures. They were at that time virtually only on Music Hall.

It was a grand financial start, but the next pitch was on a common at Whitsuntide, and the weather was atrocious building up in the rain, to eventually to be blown down with repairs to do on the following day … I had little fear of failure as I had booked fairs well ahead, and in the wait between them, I put up in the remotest village. My men & horses jog[g]ed along most happily, covering expenses, and saving and the natives had heard of this novelty, so the advent of them helped considerably.

I showed so many times my machine run hot and my films got worn, so I had to replenish them several times. Then came the back end of the season with terrible weather, it rained six fairs in succession, that sort of business empty’s [sic] one’s pocket, but it’s all in the “game” … I am about eight miles from a Cattle Fair, I knew the place well having been through it many times before, I knew now shows built up there, or Pleasure Fair. So I said to my boys, that I was determined to chance it and go. [He cycles to the village] … I cycled to it, and the Boniface was standing on the doorstep, with his little half apron .. I entertained him told him I was a showman, but reserved my purpose till we were quite friends, the[n] I told him of my living pictures, his eyes stared in wonder, he could hardly credit I had them, then I asked him whether I could put my show up outside his vacant land and show for the Cattle Fair. The answer came Yes! Like a bullet from a revolver … Next morning very early we build up and taking money very early. I had a great crowd the Inn was full. Living Picture was on the lips of a crowd. I was the first there to show them. The two days Friday and Saturday I felt like the Bank of England … I stopped there a week, a sing song every night, and when I departed they waved me out of the village.

Comment: James MacKenzie’s unpublished memoir of seventy years as a circus and fairground showman is held by Brunel University. He was born in London in 1862. The section above presumably refers to the late 1890s.

A Woman's Impression of the Philippines

Source: Mary Helen Fee, A Woman’s Impression of the Philippines (Chicago: A.C. McClurg & Co., 1910), pp. 274-275

Text: Once in a while a travelling cinematograph outfit roams through the provinces, and then for a tariff of twenty-five cents Mexican we throng the little theatre night after night. I remember once a company of “barn-stormers” from Australia were stranded in Iloilo. They had a moving picture outfit, and a young lady attired in a pink costume de ballet stood plaintively at one side and sang, plaintively and very nasally, a long account of the courting of some youthful Georgia couple. The lovers embraced each other tenderly (as per view) in an interior that had a “throw” over every picture corner, table, and chair back. Some huge American soldier down in the pit said, “That’s the real thing; no doubt about it,” but whether his words had reference to the love-making or the room we could not tell.

The song went on, the lovers married and went North; but after a while the bride grew heartsick for the old home, so “We journeyed South a spell.” With this line the moving picture flung at us, head on, a great passenger locomotive and its trailing cars. To the right there were a country road, meadows, some distant hills, a stake and rider fence, and a farmhouse. The scene was homely, simple, typically American, and rustic, and it sent every drop of loyal American blood tingling. The tears rushed to my eyes, and I couldn’t forbear joining in the roar of approbation that went up from the American contingent. An Englishman who was with our party insisted that I opened my arms a yard and a half to give strength to my applause. I said I didn’t regret it. We poor expatriated wanderers had been drifting about for months with no other emotion than homesickness, but we had a lively one then. The Filipino audience at first sat amazed at the outburst; but their sympathies are quick and keen, and in an instant they realized what it meant to the exiles, and the wave of feeling swept into them too. The young lady in the pink costume grew perceptibly exalted, and in the effort to be more pathetic achieved a degree of nasal intonation which, combined with her Australian accent, made her unique.

Comment: Mary Helen Fee was an American working for the Education Department of the Philippine Islands, which at this time (1910) were under United States administration following the Philippine-American War of 1899-1902. The Australian troupe sounds not unlike the Corrick family of entertainers, who are known to have visited South East Asian locations at this time.

Links: Available on Project Gutenberg

A Woman’s Impression of the Philippines

Source: Mary Helen Fee, A Woman’s Impression of the Philippines (Chicago: A.C. McClurg & Co., 1910), pp. 274-275

Text: Once in a while a travelling cinematograph outfit roams through the provinces, and then for a tariff of twenty-five cents Mexican we throng the little theatre night after night. I remember once a company of “barn-stormers” from Australia were stranded in Iloilo. They had a moving picture outfit, and a young lady attired in a pink costume de ballet stood plaintively at one side and sang, plaintively and very nasally, a long account of the courting of some youthful Georgia couple. The lovers embraced each other tenderly (as per view) in an interior that had a “throw” over every picture corner, table, and chair back. Some huge American soldier down in the pit said, “That’s the real thing; no doubt about it,” but whether his words had reference to the love-making or the room we could not tell.

The song went on, the lovers married and went North; but after a while the bride grew heartsick for the old home, so “We journeyed South a spell.” With this line the moving picture flung at us, head on, a great passenger locomotive and its trailing cars. To the right there were a country road, meadows, some distant hills, a stake and rider fence, and a farmhouse. The scene was homely, simple, typically American, and rustic, and it sent every drop of loyal American blood tingling. The tears rushed to my eyes, and I couldn’t forbear joining in the roar of approbation that went up from the American contingent. An Englishman who was with our party insisted that I opened my arms a yard and a half to give strength to my applause. I said I didn’t regret it. We poor expatriated wanderers had been drifting about for months with no other emotion than homesickness, but we had a lively one then. The Filipino audience at first sat amazed at the outburst; but their sympathies are quick and keen, and in an instant they realized what it meant to the exiles, and the wave of feeling swept into them too. The young lady in the pink costume grew perceptibly exalted, and in the effort to be more pathetic achieved a degree of nasal intonation which, combined with her Australian accent, made her unique.

Comment: Mary Helen Fee was an American working for the Education Department of the Philippine Islands, which at this time (1910) were under United States administration following the Philippine-American War of 1899-1902. The Australian troupe sounds not unlike the Corrick family of entertainers, who are known to have visited South East Asian locations at this time.

Links: Available on Project Gutenberg