« PreviousContinue »
Anybody's daughter. We have an indistinct idea that Harlequin is her lover, but that is all. She is only required to be young and good-looking, to wear short petticoats and pink tights, and to twirl round on the tips of her toes as rapidly and deftly as ever she possibly can. Harlequin, too, has become an independent character, coming no man knows whence and going no man knows whither. He has been invested, in spite of all classical tradition, with a semisupernatural character; his Pompeian staff has become a magic bat, with which he is enabled to work the strangest transformations; and when his mask is drawn down he is supposed to be in the receipt of fern-seed, and to walk invisible. On the whole, he is regarded only as a graceful glittering creature, whose business it is to leap through flaps,' and in whose arms Columbine can conveniently languish in the intervals of a pas seul. Very few persons are aware that (his mask, bat, and spangled criss-cross garb excepted) the only trace he retains of his Italian origin is in the mysterious 'passes' or gestures which he makes with his hands when he and his colleagues appear on the stage after the transformation-scene to join in the wild dance (Sicinnium) called a Rally. These 'passes' are supposed, pantomimically, to typify the five senses.
The modern English pantomime consists of two consecutive, but not coherent, parts-the opening' and the comic business.' Properly one should be the natural sequel of the other; but this idea has long since either been carelessly lost sight of or deliberately abandoned; the 'opening,' to serve the purposes of spectacular display, being spun out to an inordinate length; while the 'comic business,' owing to the lack of good clowns and pantaloons, is reduced to a minimum of two or three scenes, generally representing the outsides of tradesmen's shops, which are ultimately changed by Harlequin's wonderworking bat into farmyards, or kitchens, or railway-trains, or something else equally trite and uninteresting. In front of these Clown and Pantaloon pursue their traditional career of knavery; and there the shopkeepers are tripped up, old ladies are pushed, young girls romped with, babies sat upon or crammed into pillar letter-boxes; there vegetables, lobsters, codfish, plaster-casts, and legs of mutton are flung about the stage. There is a general row; the police make their appearance, and are duly bonneted and trampled upon (a very nice example to the roughs in the sixpenny gallery-but indeed the general morality of the comic business' is simply abominable); and the scene closes. Modern clowns are, as a rule (Mr. Harry Boleno, who is one of the old school, may be admitted as an exception), desperately dull; and many are mere contortionists or acrobats, who have no admissible claim to be called clowns at all, and endeavour to compensate for their normal dreariness by tying up their limbs in abnormal knots or exhibiting dancing dogs or educated pigs. Some of the modern clowns dance nimbly enough, but not one of their num
ber merits to be named in the same breath with the incomparably droll and graceful Flexmore-now, alas, deceased. So conscious are managers of the stupidity of the comic business,' and the difficulty of finding changes of scene more exciting than the conversion of a day-school for young ladies into a pickled-salmon and shellfish warehouse, that at the larger theatres it has become a common practice to interpolate in the harlequinade a spectacle, procession, or ballet on the largest scale, but in which the performers are exclusively little children. Many hundreds of juveniles find employment during the three months of the pantomimic season at the metropolitan playhouses. Sometimes they join in the parades of the interpolated ballets (of which Mr. Cormack at Drury Lane has long been the admirable Coryphæus), sometimes their services are required to fill the parts of elves and sprites, and sometimes of monkeys, tom-cats, and animated carrots and turnips in the opening.' At any rate, these tiny labourers can earn a few shillings weekly, which shillings very satisfactorily supplement the earnings of their poverty - stricken parents. The employment of children in pantomimes has been very virulently deprecated of late; first, on the ground that ‘stage fairies' are trained to their vocation by the unsparing administration of the ballet-master's cane; and next, on the plea that their theatrical labours keep them out late at night and bring them into bad company. Finally, the London School Board is said to object that pantomimic children, being bound to attend rehearsal every day for several weeks preceding Christmas, are unable to attend school with the regularity insisted upon by that new Educational Act upon which so many millions sterling will probably be spent, and which probably twenty years hence will leave the common people as ignorant, to any useful intents or purposes, as it has found them now. To these objections it may be briefly replied, that the ballet-master has no cane, and that pantomimic children are invariably treated with the greatest kindness and forbearance; next, that the little things themselves like the work, which is literally as good as a play, and a great deal better to them, since they are paid for playing; furthermore, that they can be sent to school, if need be, before or after rehearsal; and finally, that they are often accompanied to the theatre by their mothers, who may be, and often are, employed in some capacity about the house, and that, taking the worst view of the matter, they are in better company in their dressing-rooms or upon the stage than they would be sprawling on the doorstep or in the kennel up their native court, or locked up in the garret while mother is gone to the fried-fish shop, and incurring the ordinary juvenile risks of tumbling out of window or setting fire to their pinafores.
A few closing remarks are needed as to that portion of the pantomime termed the opening,' which was formerly a mere farce, brief, simple, and funny, but which has now swollen into a lengthy
burlesque extravaganza, crammed with bad songs, wretched jokes, and boisterous and vulgar breakdowns,' the whole, however, enlivened by well-grouped ballets, and scenery, costumes, and appointments of extraordinary magnificence. Abstractedly, the opening' of a pantomime, be it founded on a fairy tale from the Arabian Nights or from the Countess d'Alnois, or upon the briefest of nursery rhymes --such as 'Jack Horner,' or 'Tom Tucker,' or the 'Old Woman who lived in a Shoe'-should be a thoroughly moral and even religious entertainment. The idea of the English' opening' is clearly founded on the old mystery and miracle plays-ideas which do not to the extent of one iota enter into the scheme of the ancient pagan or modern Franco-Italian pantomimes. Ours, on the contrary, typifies one continuous conflict between the beneficent and the maleficent powers, and harlequin, columbine, and the rest are human beings alternately swayed by supernal influences of a blameless or of a baleful character. Virtue is represented by the good fairy; Evil is symbolised by the wicked magician; all the virtues and all the vices may find their types in the smiling ballet-girls, on the one hand, and the hideous gnomes, on the other. For a time vice is triumphant; the nice young prince is in distress, the beautiful princess is persecuted, the brutal baron or the depraved giant is in the ascendant; then comes a first transformation, and the faits et gestes of fairy or legendary existence are paraphrased in common life by the five pantomimists, who are themselves endowed with magic power, in order to perform transformations; thus curiously symbolising the doctrine of free will, and of our rewards and punishments being mundanely in our own hands. Finally, the follies and vices of the pantomimists bring them once more into the direst of difficulties; the dark scene' comes; harlequin loses his bat; the forlorn crew grope about in gloom, uncertainty, and despair; the wicked magician is about to ingulf them all, when, hey presto! Transformation the Second takes place, and Cimmerian darkness melts into the dazzling splendour of the Realms of Joy-that is to say, of Forgiveness. This is the real idea and meaning of a pantomimic opening.' The idea and the meaning have been in recent days utterly ignored both by pantomime writers, managers, and spectators, and it is fully time that pantomimes should cease by their idiocy and impertinence to annoy and mislead the world.
A NEW SONNETEER
UNDER ordinary circumstances, the advent of a new aspirant for fame upon the poetical arena would call for no particular attention at our hands, as every periodical nowadays has its poets and poetasters, who persistently torture our language into verse to an extent to which no other tongue has been subjected. But a native of the sunny South has condescended to adopt it as the medium through which to convey his thoughts to posterity, and him we consider worthy of more than usual consideration.
Sonnets are his specialty. A great poet has characterised sonnets as being the most puling, petrifying, stupidly platonic compositions,' and this may have acted as a deterrent upon their production. For, with the exception of those of Shakespeare, we possess none worthy of the name, and that particular form of poetry seems to be regarded with disfavour by all our living poets. With one exception. Far away, on the shores of the Adriatic, there lives a sonneteer whose works have found
'Inglorious shelter in an alien land,'
but which the irresistible current of events will inevitably convey to their natural home. This unknown bard is 'Giacomo Pincherle, author of the English sonnets on Shakespeare and Dante's centenary.'
This gentleman, possibly despairing of being able to surpass, or even equal, Petrarch in his own language, and seeing in English a splendid field for fame, has submitted the before-mentioned works to his countrymen, well knowing that success in the land which has produced such poets as Dante, Petrarch, Ariosto, Tasso, and Alfieri would establish his reputation, and place him on a footing commensurate with his talents. Perhaps also, in the words of Tasso,
'A magnanime imprese intenta ha l' alma,
Gir fra' nemici-ivi o cipresso o palma
Whether he deserves to gain the cypress or the palm will be matter for our future consideration. Meanwhile, there is a grain of comfort in reflecting that, although the author of these sonnets is a foreigner, the idea of clothing his fairest fancies in a foreign tongue is not original. It is well known that it was the intention of Lord Byron to write his greatest poem in Italian.
The volume before us, and with which we are more immediately to deal, is entitled In Memoria di Meyerbeer. The raison d'être
of the work is the profound admiration which its author entertains towards that eminent composer. His sentiments are expressed in the following dedication: Col ricordo dell' immortale maestro Giacomo Meyerbeer compiò i miei sonetti inglesi: in profonda ammirazione li consacro.' The title is ingeniously done into English. thus: Meyerbeer's Record, New Poetical Essays. But to an ordinary mind there is some difficulty in connecting that personage with the contents, as he is only referred to in the following
'Sonnet to Meyerbeer.
Transfused, meseems as chanting to thy notes,
In the loftiest text; thy, harp, too, denotes
That the spirit God's, through them, I'll extol,
After devoting these lines to the memory of the defunct musician, the poet suddenly soars upwards towards
'The surmised worlds, dotting our sky's face ;'
but fearing that his readers might not be able to follow him in his transcendental flight, he exclaims :
Blessed Stars! I love your sight, but I must call
Quitting, therefore, the stars, which he asserts are
'Glorious, unaccountable as the sand,'
he condescends to tinge mundane matters with his poetic pen. He highly disapproves of the despotic tyranny of fashion, which continues to distort the contour of the female form and to maime so our fair,' and, in his indignation, waxes slightly comminatory:
'Foul Jealousy, thou night of stupid days,
Be curst! blessed be the new liberal minds
Who'll loose ladies from those prejudiced stays.'
The high Poets' genius transfused' into the soul of Giacomo Pincherle finds genial occupation in depicting the miseries of 'A Distressed Wife,' and we cannot refrain from placing this pathetic narrative before our readers in its entirety:
'A lady by her husband deserted,
And, resourceless, left in this vale of woes