London Labour and the London Poor, volume 3
The Canvas Clown.
A TALL, fine-looking young fellow, with a quantity of dark hair, which he wore tucked behind his ears, obliged me with his experience as a clown at the fairs. He came to me dressed in a fashionable "paletot," of a gingerbread colour, which, without being questioned on the subject, he told me he had bought in for .
I have seldom seen a finer-built youth than this clown, for he was proportioned like a statue. The peculiarity of his face was that, at the junction of the forehead with the nose there was a rising, instead of a hollow, somewhat like that which is seen in Roman antiquities.
His face, whilst talking, was entirely without emotion, and he detailed the business outside the show, on the parade, in a singsong voice, like a child saying its lesson; and although he often said "This makes "em shout with laughter," his own face remained as solemn as a parish clerk"s.
He furnished me with the following particulars of his life:—
"On and off, I"ve been clowning these year. Previous to that time, I have done busking in public-houses, and comic singing, and ballet performing at penny exhi- bitions; as well as parading outside shows at fairs. I"ve done clowning at near every place, at fairs and in the streets, along with a school of acrobats, and at circuses, and at penny gaffs, and at the Standard, and such-like. I commenced some years ago, at Enfield fair. It was a travelling concern I was with,—the "Thespian Temple," or Johnson"s Theatre,—where I was engaged to parade on the outside as a walking gentleman. There was no clown for the pantomime, for he had disappointed us, and of course they couldn"t get on without ; so, to keep the concern going, old Johnson, who knew I was a good tumbler, came up to me, and said "he had , and your must it;" which means,—We have no clown, and you must do it. So I done the clowning on the parade, and then, when I went inside, I"d put on a pair of Turkish trousers, and a long cloak, and hat and feathers, to play "Robert, duke of Normandy," in the piece.
You see the performances consisted of all gag. I don"t suppose anybody knows what the words are in the piece. Everybody at a show theatre is expected to do general business, and when you"re short of people (as we was at Johnson"s, for we played "Robert, duke of Normandy," with men and girls), Clown is expected to come on and slip a cloak over his dress, and act tragedy in the piece. We don"t make up so heavy for the clown for fairs, only a little dab of red on the cheeks, and powder on the face; so we"ve only just got to wipe off the "slop" when it"s in the way. You looks rather pale, that"s all. The dress is hidden by the we put over it.
The plot of "Robert, duke of Normandy," is this: He and his slave Piccolo come in; and after a little business between them, all gagging, he says, "Slave! get back to the castle!" he answers, "Your orders shall be attended to!" Then he says, "At the peril of your life, and prevent the fair Angeline to escape!" That"s the scene. In the , of Robert"s slaves attack his rival, and then Robert rushes in and pretends to save him. He cries "Hold! to !" The men go off, saying, "Well, we part as friends! when next we meet, we meet as foes!" As soon as Robert leaves the rival the lady comes in, and tells him she is flying from Robert"s castle, and that Robert has seduced her, and seeks her life. She tells him that the man who just left him is he. "It is false!" he says; "that is my friend!" She cries, "Test him!" "But how?" he asks. She replies," Follow me to the statue, at the bottom of the grove, and then I will tell you!" Then the comes on. Enter Robert and slave, and the marble statue discovered: that is, it is supposed to be, but it is only Angeline dressed up. He gives the slave instructions to put a ring on the finger of the statue,—for he is supposed to have dealings with Old Nick,
and that every time he put a ring on the statue he can demand a victim. He tells the slave to place a ring on the finger, and pronounce these words: "When it may please your most gracious majesty to seek your husband, to find a victim, you will find him here!" "No, no, not here—there!" pointing to Robert. The Duke half draws his sword, and exclaims, "Slave! what ho!" without touching him. Enters the rival, who demands satisfaction of Robert; who says, "What can I do to satisfy you?" for he"s in a deuce of a go now. He then tells him to kneel to the statue, and swear he is not Robert, duke of Normandy. Instead of that he calls to the servant, and tells him to put the ring on; but Robert, the Duke, is in a deuce of a way, tearing his hair. The servant does it, and exclaims, "I have done it; but would you believe it, when I placed it on the finger, the finger became collapsed!" Robert cries, "Slave, thou art a liar! if I find that it is false I will cleave thee to the earth!" Robert examines the finger, and exclaims, "Alas! it is too true!" and he kneels to the statue and says, "I swear that I am"—and he"s going to say, "not duke of Normandy," but the statue is too quick for him, and adds, "Robert, duke of Normandy!" And then the comic slave pops his head round, and pronounces, "Oh, the devil!" Then the rival stabs him, and he falls down wounded, and then he"s triumphant; and a pen"orth of blue fire finishes the piece; and then ding! ding! dong! and down goes the curtain. We always have blue fire,—a pen"orth each house,—and that makes it go. Sometimes there are friends in the piece; but it all depends upon whether the piece is powerfully cast or not. We usually knocks the friends into , or does away with "em all together. "Robert, duke of Normandy," is a never-failing fair piece, and we always does it every year. That and "Blue Beard, or Female Curiosity," and "Fair Rosamond, or the Bower of Woodstock," are our stock pieces. After the curtain has been down minutes it goes up again, and the heavy goes in and says,—
Then all of us at the sides put their fingers in their mouths and howl like Indians. there"s generally a cue given of "Now, demons." After that the heavy man says:—
We called him russet-booted, because he had been playing the lover in the piece. At Richardson"s they called him "Spangled Harlequin," but old Johnson couldn"t do that, he hadn"t no wardrobe. Then the heavy man continues:—
Then he goes on:—
Then I cried, "Hulloa! here we are!" and the sports begin.
"The , as we calls it—a dance, to use your terms—is Harlequin comes in with Columbine for a hornpipe. If he can"t dance, Clown, as soon as he begins, cries, "Here we are!" and rushes in and drives them off.
After that, Clown runs on and says, "Here we are!" and knocks Pantaloon down; who exclaims, "Oh! ain"t I got the tooth-ache! Clown says, "Let me feel your tooth. Oh, it"s quite loose! I"ll get a bit of string and soon have it out." Clown goes off for string, Pantaloon singing out, "Murder! murder!" Clown returns with string and a pistol, and then ties the string, and cries, "Here goes , and now it"s , and here goes ," and fires and pulls a wooden tooth, as big as your fist, with sharp prongs to it. I"ve had these teeth often as big as a quartern loaf, but I"m talking of my appearance. Pantaloon says, "Here, that"s my tooth!" and Clown replies. "So it is," and hits him on the head with it. Then he asks Pantaloon if he"s better; but he answers, "No, I"m worse. Oh! oh! I"ve got a cold in my gum!" Then a redhot poker is introduced, and he burns him with it all round the stage. That concludes the scene. Then there"s another trip, a wouldbe polka or so; and then comes the bundlescene. Enter a Yorkshireman—it"s mostly Harlequins do this, because most of the others are outside parading, to keep the crowd together—he"s got a smockfrock on and russet boots at Johnson"s, and he says, "I"ve coome up here to Lunnon to see my Dolly. I feel rather dry, and I"ll just gi" in here to get half-a-point of yale. I"ll just leave my bunnel outside, and keep a strict eye on it, for they say as how Lunnon has plenty of thieves in it." Enter Clown, very cautiously. He sees the bundle, and calls Pantaloon. He tells Pantaloon, "I must have it, because I want it." He goes and picks up the bundle, and says to Pantaloon, "I shouldn"t wonder but what this bundle belongs to——" "Me," the Yorkshireman says, and the Clown says, "Ah, I thought so;" and then he takes Pantaloon"s hand, and says, "Come along, little boy, we shall get into trouble," and leads him off. They come on again, and this time Clown tells Pantaloon to get it; so he goes and picks up the bundle, and Yorkshireman knocks him down. Clown runs off and Pantaloon after. Clown then returns on his belly, drawing himself on with his hands.
He gets the bundle in his mouth, and is just going off when Yorkshireman turns round, and Clown seeing him, gives the bundle to Pantaloon, and says, "Hold this." Yorkshireman seizes Clown and tells him he wants his bundle. Pantaloon having run away with it, Clown says, "I haven"t got it, starch me" (that means, "search me"); and there is a regular run over the stage crying "Hot beef! hot beef!" (instead of "Stop thief!") The Yorkshireman collars Pantaloon, and says, "I"ll take you to the station-house," and Clown exclaims, "Yes, and I"ll take this bundle down the lane" (meaning , because there is a sale for anything there). Then comes the catch-scene as we call it; that is, they all come on in the dark, Clown singing, "Puss, puss! have you seen my pussy?" Then in pops the fairy, and cries, "Hold! your magic sports is run, and thus I step between." Pantaloon adds, "Aye, it"s all so gay;" and Clown cries, "Yes, and all serene;" and the fairy says, "And with my magic wand I change the scene." Then everybody sings:—
Then the curtain falls, and Clown puts his head out on side and exclaims, "It"s all," and Pantaloon pops out at the other side and adds, "over."
The handing man, who has done Robert, then shouts out from the top, "Pass out!" in a sepulchral voice, and a door opens in the side of the stage for the people to leave by. That day I was with old Johnson—we used to call him "Snuffy Johnson," "cos he carried a lot of snuff in his waistcoat pocket—we were very busy, and there was a good many people waiting on the outside to come in, so we only did about of them regular performances; and then about o"clock in the evening the crowd got so great, old Johnson used to hollow through the parade-door, over people"s heads, "John Aderley," just as we had commenced playing, and that meant "Cut it short." We used to finish it up sharp then, and finish all up in or minutes. We used to knock Robert the Devil into a very little space, doing the scenes, but cutting them short; and as for the pantomime, we had scarcely commenced with " more slaves will I rise from out the unfathomable deep," than we were singing, "Our pantomime"s done, here"s an end to our fun." Sometimes the people would grumble awful, and at others they laughed to see how they was swindled.
I got on very fair on my appearance as Clown, considering the circumstances, but I had, you see, of the best parading comic men opposing me. There was Teddy W—— as Silly Billy, and Black Sambo as Black Fop, and Funny Felix as ring clown, and Steve Sanderson, another clown, at Frazier"s Circus, next door to us; and we didn"t stand much chance at clowning alongside of them, as they"re the best paraders out. Besides, Frazier"s booth took nearly all the ground up; and as we drawed up on the ground (that is, with the parade-carriages) late on Sunday evening, we were obliged to have a plot next to the Circus, and we had the town pump right in the audience part, close to the seat in the gallery, and the Obelisk—or rather a cross it is—took up side of the stage, which next day we used as the castle in Blue Beard, when the girl gets up on a ladder to the top of the railings, which had a shutter on "em, and that was Fatima looking out from the spire of the castle for her Salem. Ah! "twas a great hit, for we put an old scene round it, and it had a capital effect.
What we do when we go out clowning to a travelling theatre is this. This is what I did at Enfield: we arrived late and drawed up the parade-carriages on the ground, which the gov. had gone on a-head to secure. Then we went to sleep for awhile—pitched on a shutter underneath the parade-carriages, for it had been wet weather, and we couldn"t sleep on the canvas for the booth, for it had been sopped with rain at Edmonton fair. As soon as it was break of day we begun getting up the booth, and being short-handed it took us till o"clock before we was ready. we had to measure our distances and fix the parade-waggons. Then we planted our king pole on the in the centre; then we put our back-pole on the near the parade; then we put on our ridge at top, and our siderails; and then we put our side-ridges, and sling our rafters. We then roll the tilt up, which is for the roof, and it gets heavy with dirt, and we haul it up to the top and unroll it again and fasten it again; then we fix the sides up, with shutters about feet square, which you see on the top of the travelling parade-carriages. We fixes up the theatre and the seats which we take with us. All the scenes roll up, and is done up in bundles. The performers drop under the parade-waggons, and there"s a sacking up to divide the men"s part from the women. There"s a lookingglass—sometimes an old bit or a -penny starred, or any old thing we can get hold of—and the gov. gives you out your dress. We always provide our own slips and suchlike.
When we parade outside, it all depends upon what kind of Pantaloon you"ve got with you, as to what business you can make. When we come out on the parade all the company is together, and we march round, form a half-circle, or dress it, as we say, while the band plays "Rule Britannia," or some other operatic air. Then the manager generally calls out, "Now, Mr. Merryman, state the nature of the performances to be given here to-day." Then I come forward, and this is the
|dialogue: "Well, Mr. Martin, what am I to tell them?" "The truth, sir! what they"ll see here to-day." "Well, if they stop long enough they"ll see a great many people, I shouldn"t wonder." "No, no, sir, I want you to tell them what they"ll see inside our theatre." "Well, sir, they"ll see a splendid drama by firstrate performers, of Robert Dooke of Normandy, with a variety of singing and dancing, with a gorgeous and comic pantomime, with new dresses and scenery, and everything combined to make this such an entertainment as was never before witnessed in this town, and all for the small charge of ." "No, no, Mr. Merryman, threepence." "What! threepence? I shan"t perform at a threepenny show." And then I pretend to go down the steps as if leaving; he pulls me back, and says, "Come here, sir; what are you going to do?" "I shan"t spoil my deputation playing for threepence." "But you must understand, Merryman, we intend giving them and all a treat, that the working-classes may enjoy theirselves as well as noblemen." "Then if that"s the case I don"t mind, but only for this once."|
Then I begin spouting again and again, always ending up with "to be witnessed for the low charge of threepence." Then Pantaloon comes up to say what he"s going to do, and I give him the "nap," and knock him on his back. He cries "I"m down," and I turn him over and pick him up, and say, "And now you"re up." Then the company form a half set and do a quadrille. When they have scrambled through that, Clown will do a comic dance, and then some burlesque statues. This is the way them statues are done: I go inside and get a birch-broom, and put a large piece of tilt or old cloth round me, and stand just inside the curtains at the entrance from the parade, ready to come out when wanted. Then the male portion of the company get just to the top of the steps, and Pantaloon says to of them, "Did you speak?" He says, "When?" and Pantaloon says, "Now;" and the whole lot make a noise, hollowing out, "Oh, oh, oh!" as if they was astonished, but it"s only to attract attention. Then the gong strikes, and the trumpets flourishes, and everybody shouts, "Hi, hi! look here!" Then, naturally, all the people turn towards the caravan to see what"s up. Then they clear a passage-way from the front to the entrance and back, and bring me forth with this bit of cloth before me. The music flourishes again, and they make a tremendous tumult, crying out, "Look here! look here!" and when all are looking I drop the cloth, and then I stand in the position of Hercules, king of Clubs, with a birch-broom across my shoulders, and an old hat on a-top of my wig. Then the band strikes up the statue music, and I goes through the statues; such as Ajax defying the lightning, and Cain killing his brother Abel; and it finishes up with the fighting and dying Gladiator. As a finale I do a back-fall, and pretend to be dead. The company then picks me up and carry me, lying stiff, on their shoulders round the parade. They carry me inside, and shout out, "All in to begin; now we positively commence." Then they drive everybody in off the parade. When the public have taken their seats then we come strolling out, at a time, till we all get out on the parade again, because the place isn"t sufficiently full. It"s what we call "making a sally." The checktakers at the door prevent anybody leaving if they want to come out again.
Then I get up to some nonsense again. Perhaps I"ll get up a lot of boys out of the fair, and make "em sit on the parade in a row, and keep a school, as I call it. I get an old property fiddle, and I tell them, when I play they must sing. Then I give out a hymn. The bow has a lot of notches in it, and there"s a bit of wood sticking up in the fiddle; so that when I plays it goes "ricketty, ricketty," like. This is the hymn I gives out:—
Of course, when they sings, they make a horrible noise, or even if they dont, I begin to wallop them with my bow. I then tell them I must teach them something easier . Then I give them—
Then I finish up by putting on the boys a lot of masks, and some have old soldiers" coats; and I give them implements of war, such as old brooms or sticks, and then I put them through their military exercises. I stand in front, with the birch-broom as my gun, and I tell them they must do as I do. Then I cry, "File arms," and all mark their own muskets. I tell them to lay them all down; and after they have laid down their arms I tell them to shoulder arms, which makes a shout, because they haven"t got no arms. boy, who is put up to it, says, "I"ve got no arms;" I go up to him and catch hold of his arms, and ask him what he calls "these here." Then I make him put them on his shoulders, and tell him, that"s "shoulder arms." Then I tell them to ground arms, and I do it at the time, stooping down and putting my arms on the ground. I then call them to attention, and up comes the Pantaloon on a basket-horse, and I tell them they are going to be reviewed by the Duke. I give them all the implements again, and put them to stand attention. Pantaloon gallops round them, reviewing. He wears a large flap cocked-hat and soldier"s old coat. He makes a bit of fun with his horse, making
|it kick, and breaking the ranks of my soldiers. Then I quarrel with him about that, and he says, "He"s a right to do as he likes, because he"s my superior horse-ifer." Then he orders me to the other end of the parade, to stand attention, with my back towards the boys. Then he tells them to ride about face and charge, and they all run and charge me in behind. They run or times round the parade, still charging me, until I run inside to the theatre, and all the company shout out, "All in to begin; we are now positively to commence." We then get them in off the parade again, and if the place is full begin; if not, we gradually crawl out again by , and of the girls dances a hornpipe or a Highland fling. We then make a sally, "All in again," and by that time we generally begin.|