Barrel/street organ stuff.
François Dominique Séraphin, Bourbon favourite and reputedly the father of ombres chinoises (shadow puppetry), began operating 15 years later than is generally thought, and may have copied his techniques from an itinerant Italian or a London Alsatian. Featuring the memoirs of the valet to the later Louis XVII, early descriptions of the delights of the renovated Palais Royal (including a pygmy show), jolly old Baron Grimm on the lamentable state of French opera, shadow plays, and marionettes, and William Beckford’s favourite designer of theatrical perversions.
François Dominique Séraphin (1747-1800) was an entertainer who came to prominence before the Revolution, and whose successors are said to have continued his show until the establishment of the Third Republic. Three errors regarding his early career have led to his being regarded as a key figure in (audio)visual tech innovation:
- the date when his show started at Versailles,
- the date when it was patronised by the royal family there, and
- the date of its transfer to the Palais Royal and public acclaim in Paris.
The conventional Séraphin chronology is a nonsensical, late-19th-century creation
A new book from University of Chicago Press by Deirdre Loughridge, Haydn’s Sunrise, Beethoven’s Shadow: Audiovisual Culture and the Emergence of Musical Romanticism, claims that:
The acknowledged inventor of the ombres chinoises, François Dominique Séraphin, opened his show in Versailles in 1772. By the time he moved his show to Paris in 1784, it had already been copied by enterprising showmen and spread to other parts of Europe.
She has two sources for #11:
- Feu Séraphin: histoire de ce spectacle depuis son origine jusqu’à sa disparition, 1776-1870 (1875), which gives:
- 1772 for the show’s opening in Versailles – no evidence;
- April 1781 for granting of the title Spectacle des Enfants de France – no evidence, the subsequent playbill being apparently undated;
- 1784 for transfer to the Duke of Orléans’ speculative development in the gardens of the Palais-Royal – no evidence.
- Bordat & Boucrot, Les théâtres d’ombres (1956), which I haven’t seen, but which, since it doesn’t alert Loughridge to the error, probably uses Feu or similar.
This and similar chronologies, with similar late 19th century sources 1 or worse, are to be found on Wikipedia 2 and in several dozen other popular and academic publications in the field. Yet a moment’s reflection casts doubt:
- If Séraphin was so good, would it really have taken the royal family nine years to discover him in Versailles, population < 40,000? I’d have thought that the typical trajectory involved playing provincial venues for a couple of years, and then blowing one’s savings on one season’s hall rental at Versailles in the hope of striking Bourbon.
- Why would the king have honoured the show in the name of the French Royal Children (plural) in April 1781 when Marie Antoinette’s second, Louis Joseph, wasn’t born till October, presumably with no great and immediate interest in the theatre?
- How could Séraphin have transferred to the Palais Royal in 1784 when the buildings in question were still under construction? The 1784 edition of Luc-Vincent Thiéry‘s celebrated guidebook doesn’t mention Séraphin, and Thiéry’s brochureware description of the Duke of Orléans’ residential and retail development makes clear that this is a project in progress.
Contemporary sources show that Séraphin became known in Versailles in 1786/7, was contracted by the royals in 1787, and moved to Paris in 1787
Jean-Baptiste Cléry (“Cléry”) was valet de chambre to the infant Louis-Charles (later Louis XVII) and served voluntarily as Louis XVI’s valet in captivity until the latter’s execution in 1793. His diaries, published posthumously in 1825 as Journal de Cléry, are sensational, but of less interest to us than the memoirs of his younger brother, Pierre Louis Hanet-Cléry (“Hanet”), who also served the Bourbons in a personal capacity and wrote memoirs (Mémoires de P.-L. Hanet-Cléry, ancien valet de chambre de Mme Royale (1825)). Valet de chambre to Marie Antoinette’s first child, Marie Thérèse, from her birth in 1778, Hanet says that the royal family’s first acquaintance with Séraphin’s work was during carnival when Louis-Charles was two. LC was born on March 27 and Easter was April 8 in 1787, so Hanet (“n’ayant encore que deux ans”) seems to be indicating 1788, although he might instead mean the run-up to LC’s second birthday in 1787, but is quite unlikely to have meant 1786:
The queen, one day attending her daughter’s dinner with Madame de Polignac [Marie Antoinette’s favourite and her children’s governess], asked me if I had seen the Chinese shadows of which she had heard much talk. Yes, Madame, I replied, and this spectacle seemed to me so well calculated to amuse the royal children that I proposed talking to the governess about it. That lady, thus informed, instructed me to go and negotiate with the director for three performances a week during carnival.
Mr. Seraphin, endowed with very small pecuniary means, but with a very large bump on his back, 3 thought it his duty to raise his pretensions; first he asked me for 1,200 francs per performance, then 1,000, and finally 600; but Mme. Seraphin, more modest, or perhaps more ambitious, at once contemplated where this could lead her, and reduced the price to 300 francs, which I granted her.
This spectacle afforded the greatest of pleasure to the royal children, especially to the Duke of Normandy [Louis-Charles], who, being only two years of age, enjoyed himself in a most remarkable manner. Their Majesties, who wished to be witnesses of the happiness experienced by their children, attended these performances, and soon all the princes of blood royal came with their young families. The king was personally so satisfied by this that he wished to testify as such to the inventor: “Your little tableaus,” said he, “are well drawn, and your pyrite fires are charming.” 4
Seraphin and his wife, filled with joy and hope, shared with me their intention to ask the king for permission to open their show in Paris without making the customary payment to the great theatres. I encouraged them; they presented their proposal, and obtained the authorisation they desired.
Installed at the Palais Royal, they accumulated a very large fortune; it was due, they often repeated to me, to the pure and simple tastes of Their Majesties, whose presence had created the fashion for Chinese shadows.
Thiéry’s 1787 guidebook describes Seráphin’s show, thus ruling out 1788, and says that the buildings are new, probably making 1786 more improbable:
The Chinese Shadows, nº 127
This Spectacle, established by Mr. Seraphin, awarded a patent by the King, 5 is situated on the first floor of new buildings of the Palais Royal, and is entered via arcade No. 127.
There you can see arabesque fires of a new kind, and transparent tableaux, in which new and amusing scenes take place. The Chinese shadows, produced by various combinations of light and shade, show plainly all the attitudes of man, and execute rope and character dances with astonishing precision. Animals of all kinds go through their paces, and also perform all the motions proper to them, without any thread or cord being seen to support or direct them. 6
Reasonable conclusions: Séraphin launched his show in winter 1786/7, but even if it took two seasons for his show to be noticed, the earliest conceivable Versailles launch date is 1785; and he triumphed with the royals during Carnival 1787 and moved to Paris soon after.
Feu deceives deliberately, quoting several paras from Hanet without mentioning the dates which contradict its invented chronology. Why? Every publisher goes to market with the most remarkable ragbag he thinks he can sell, and natural commercialism may have been exacerbated by revanchism and a search for national heroes following France’s defeat by, and loss of Alsace and Lorraine to, Prussia in 1870-1 (Séraphin was from Lorraine, although his birthplace remained French) – make France great earlier, if you like, a sentiment that led to the Treaty of Versailles in 1919.
Séraphin’s ombres chinoises were simple and unoriginal, and may have been imitated from the itinerant Italian Sanquirico or the Alsatian Londoner Loutherbourg
Thiéry’s description of the puppetry is improved on by Kotzebue, a German emigré writer, in Meine Flucht nach Paris im Winter 1790:
Since today [Christmas] all the shows are closed, except the Ombres Chinoises in the Palais Royal, we went there, but couldn’t bear it for more than a quarter of an hour. I expected to find this little spectacle at the peak of its perfection, but I was mistaken. The paintings were very gaudy and bad, the little figures stiff and graceless, and even the threads used to pull their arms and legs were visible.
Among the scenes depicted was one in which a Russian woman complained to her girlfriend that her husband no longer loved her, since he hadn’t beaten her for three days, at which the husband appeared, begged for forgiveness, and excused himself on the grounds that he had left his stick somewhere, but had just found it, and, at last, as proof of his contrition, let loose on the woman.
“Typically German!” said someone behind us. Dear God, I thought for my part, typical French ignorance, which still believes in the old fairy tale that Russian woman prefer to be beaten than kissed by their husbands.
The orchestra consisted of a boy, who drummed on a dulcimer 7. The hall was very small and lowly, crammed full with people, the air suffocating. We drew a deep breath when we got to the door.
In technical terms, this appears to be simple shadow puppetry. Some key timeline moments:
- Huygens’ use, perhaps in the 1650s, of a projector described by Kircher with a local light source and for entertainment.
- Such a device was shown and commercialised for the elite in Western Europe by Walgensten in the 1660s.
- Leibniz’s thoughts on marionette shadow puppetry in the 1670s.
- Common(ly understood) and applied by the mid-18th century – for example, Guyot’s Nouvelles récréations physiques et mathématiques was immediately translated into English and German on publication in 1769.
- A realisation mid-century – which I haven’t seen discussed, then or now – that the exploitation of projectors to enable the use of marionettes instead of humans in shadow plays (rather as actors were replaced by marionettes in the Italian commedia repertoire in the same period) enabled a substantial reduction in operating costs.
Who might Séraphin have imitated? Loughridge has a candidate:
In London, the ombres chinoises made their debut in 1776 under the auspices of Ambroise, an Italian (born Ambrogio) who had likely encountered Séraphin’s show in France the previous year.[Altick, The Shows of London] The same showman, now going by the name Ambrosio Sanquirico, brought the ombres chinoises to Germany in 1779, where he advertised his “never before seen here LES OMBRES CHINOISES.” 8 By the 1780s, other traveling showmen too performed “ombres chinoises” throughout Germany.
The Czech Theatre Encyclopaedia has more on Sanquirico, none of which I have fisked:
- He was originally a painter, but no relationship to the contemporary Milanese painter and set designer Alessandro Sanquirico has been demonstrated, let alone to Giorgio de Chirico.
- In autumn 1776 he showed Chinese shadows in Petersburg to acclaim.
- In autumn 1777 he appeared in Prague with a Chinese shadow show, which he had allegedly shown to the royals of France, Britain and Russia.
- Some of this appears to have been automated, but my Czech fails me. 9
- His 1779 shadow theatre shows in Nuremberg (this is the playbill cited by Loughridge; he also visited Braunschweig in 1779) featured banditry, Spanish daggers, a compassionate enchantress, animals from the four continents of the world, and “beautiful dances” that even a “living person would not naturally perform.”
- He posed for official purposes as a scientific investigator but actually focused on foreign freakery and comedy – which Feu Séraphin‘s descriptions of repertoire suggest was also Séraphin’s line.
Séraphin may also have seen a nominally Germanic Alsatian called Loutherbourg (bios) who revolutionised the mechanics of London theatre for David Garrick in the 1770s and in 1781 launched his masterpiece, the Eidophusikon:
Described by the Public Advertiser as “various imitations of Natural Phenomena, represented by moving pictures,” it was the fruit, Philippe claimed, of twenty years of experiment (Altick, Shows 119, 121).  Inside his Leicester Square house he’d built an opulent miniature theatre-cum-art salon. Here, for a fee of five shillings, around 130 fashionable spectators sat in comfort to watch a series of moving scenes projected within a giant peephole aperture, eight feet by six feet. The darkened auditorium combined with skilful use of concealed and concentrated light sources, coloured silk filters, clockwork automata, winding backscreens and illuminated transparencies created a uniquely illusionist environment.  Audiences watched five landscapes in action. Dawn crept over the Thames at Greenwich; the noonday sun scorched the port of Tangier; a crimson sunset flushed over the Bay of Naples; a tropical moon rose over the wine-dark waters of the Mediterranean; and a torrential storm wrecked a ship somewhere off the Atlantic coast. Between scenes, painted transparencies served as curtain drops, and Mr and Mrs Michael Arne entertained the audience with violin music and song. (Iain McCalman, The Virtual Infernal: Philippe de Loutherbourg, William Beckford and the Spectacle of the Sublime (2007))
Was Séraphin celebrated under Louis XVI because the rest of French popular theatre at that stage was pretty backward?
I’m asking the question, not providing an answer, but I do wonder whether a royal retreat to Versailles, suffocating theatrical regulation, and economic crisis meant that there was a lack of excitement in the decades leading to the revolution. In 1770 the satirist Friedrich Melchior, Baron von Grimm, describes French excitement re human shadow plays:
I remember being singularly amazed in my childhood by the noble play called schattenspiel in German, which was performed by ambulant comedians with great success. Well-stretched oiled papers or a white canvas are hung in place of the theatre backdrop. A candle is placed seven or eight feet behind this curtain; by putting the actors between the candle and the stretched canvas, the light behind them projects their shadows onto this stretched canvas or onto the paper transparency, and shows them to the spectators with all their movements and gestures. I know of no spectacle more interesting for children apart from French Opera; 10 it lends itself equally well to enchantments, marvels, and to the most terrible catastrophes. If, for example, you want the devil to carry off somebody, the actor who plays the devil has but to jump with his prey over the candle behind, and, on the canvas it will seem as if he has flown up into the air with him. This fine genre has just been invented in France, where it has been made an social amusement as spiritual as it is noble; but I fear that it will be smothered in its infancy by the enthusiasm for playing guess-the-proverb. 11 L’Heureuse Péche, a shadow comedy, with changes of scene, has just been printed: the title tells us that this piece was performed in society towards the end of 1767, epoch of the invention of the genre in France. It is to be hoped that we shall soon have a complete repertoire of such pieces. (Correspondance littéraire, philosophique et critique de Grimm et de Diderot, 1753-90) 12
So perhaps we should turn to the French more for creative PR than for theatrical innovation, although the French are certainly not the only addicts to this vice: at a Lebanese Maronite kebab shop on the Dutch border, where I sheltered for several days some time ago, it was impressed on me that it was the (Ottoman) Turks, not the Italians, who invented the pizza.
- Le Roi’s Histoire de Versailles (1868), also popular and evidence-free, downgrades Séraphin from inventor to the “true founder of perfected Chinese shadows,” and says that he began at Versailles in 1780, that the Spectacle des Enfants de France was granted in 1781, and that he moved to the Palais-Royal at the end of 1781. Les pupazzi noirs, ombres animées (1896), used by some, gives a ben trovato but baseless description of a 1784 opening, apparently featuring Mozin Senior (born 1769) on harpsichord. ↩
- English: “developed and popularised shadow plays in France. The art form would go on to be copied across Europe… Séraphin is seen as the most important figure in the development of the art form.” Etc. ↩
- I think this refers to the (theatrical) tradition of elderly hunchbacked misers chasing gorgeous young things – e.g. Pantalone in the commedia dell’arte – rather than to any physical infirmity. Unfortunately no portrait of Mrs. Séraphin survives.
Mid-18th century Doccia porcelain Pantalone from the V&A. ↩
- Feux pyrites, a malapropism for (the tautologous) feux pyriques, Pyrrhic fires, aka feux arabesques: images projected using a magic lantern, and animated, perhaps by moving one painted glass slide in front of another fixed one, or perhaps by using a hand-cranked version of this convection-driven apparatus from around 1800. Mathurin Régnier‘s 1613-ish Satire XI suggests that image carousels had been revolving around light sources for some time:
a bright lantern
With which some confectioner amuses children,
Where trussed-up geese, small monkeys, and elephants,
Dogs, cats, hares, foxes and many strange beasts
Run, one after another
une lanterne vive
Dont quelque pâtissier amuse les enfants,
Où des oisons bridés, guenuches, éléphants,
Chiens, chats, lièvres, renards et mainte étrange bête
Courent l’une après l’autre
19th century incarnations, sometimes combining kaleidoscopy (keyword: chromatropy) with shadow puppetry, persisted until the beginning of cinema:
Some German rambling on the this and other optical illusions:
- Sacre bleu! He didn’t even invent it, and watch him trying to use the state to kill off the competition! ↩
- The preceding pygmy spectacle also sounds good. More Gallic dwarves some other time. ↩
- Zackebrette: “What modern Jews call [a psalterion] we call a Zacke-Bret” (Curieuses und Reales Natur-Kunst-Berg-Gewerck- und Handlungs-Lexicon (1731)), so I think it’s a Hackbrett, a kind of hammer dulcimer. ↩
- The playbill cited in Loughridge’s #13 may have meant that such shadow puppetry had never been seen before in Germany, but is more likely to have referred to Nuremberg. ↩
- Altick, The Shows of London (1978) says that Séraphin’s USP was the use of clockwork. Unfortunately I can’t see his source, and Kotzebue and other 18th century sources don’t support the notion. ↩
- Jouer des proverbes: a society game where the party has to guess the proverb played out by one of their number. ↩
- Grimm’s satire on French operatic decadence, Le petit prophète de Boehmischbroda (1753), is also justly famous, and contains a chapter on marionettes. ↩
But who are the three noseless Austrian ladies?
Before Christmas a kind person sent me Heinrich Riggenbach’s German translation of Dmitri Grigorovich’s 1843 anthropological essay, The Organ-Grinders of St. Petersburg (Петербургские шарманщики), produced for the Zurich publishing house Sanssouci, whose founder, Peter Schifferli, was a notorious barrel-organ enthusiast. I thoroughly enjoyed it, but some questions remained unanswered, such as the function of the automata of Napoleon and three noseless, foil-clad Austrian ladies, observed by Grigorovich on top of a small organ:
Napoleon mit blauem Rock und Dreispitz dreht sich um Damen ohne Nase, die von Kopf bis Fuss mit Folien beklebt sind. Ist der Besitzer dieser Kostbarkeit ein Italiener, dann wird er bestimmt ein Gespräch mit euch anknüpfen und es nicht unterlassen, tüchtig auf Napoleon zu schimpfen, und weiss Gott warum, auf die österreichischen Damen, die sich mit ihm drehen, wenn er die Bedeutung der Puppen der Reihe nach erklärt.
Riggenbach makes no comment, so I got hold of the Russian original:
Наполеона в синем фраке и треугольной шляпе, вертящегося вокруг безносых дам, с ног до головы облепленных фольгою. Если владелец этого сокровища итальянец, то он непременно вступит с вами в разговор и, объясняя значение каждой куклы порознь, не утерпит, чтоб не выбранить хорошенько Наполеона и бог весть почему кружащихся с ним австрийских дам.
… discovered a series of minor elisions during the entire course of Riggenbach’s translation, and foolishly thought I’d translate the whole thing into English & elucidate during festive downtime. I got to the Austrian ladies, still had no idea what they represented, and googled around. First find was Arkadiy Haimovich Goldenberg’s 2009 article about a dilettante organ-grinder and wastrel in Gogol’s Dead Souls, “What is Nozdryov singing with the barrel organ?” (“О чем поет шарманка Ноздрева?”), which suggests that the ladies might be images of death accompanying an early 18th century French song set during the War of the Spanish Succession, Malbrook s’en va-t-en guerre, which had become popular in various (updated and/or localised) forms across Europe.
a figurine of Napoleon, dressed in a blue coat and a three-cornered hat, twirling about the figures of ladies who are without noses and who are covered from head to foot with shiny foil. If the owner of this treasure is Italian, he will invariably engage you in conversation. He will explain to you the significance of each and every puppet, and for your benefit, he will not restrain from scolding Napoleon and the Austrian ladies who twirl about him. (God knows why.)
In 1810 Napoleon divorced the childless Josephine and married Marie-Louise, daughter of Emperor Francis I. As a result, the Austrian court had little choice bur to submit fully to Napoleon’s many prescriptions and demands.
Immediately more convincing, but I doubted whether Russian peasants would really appreciate such elderly geopolitical metaphor, so I googled again, and came up with a third idea which I believe fits the bill.
Napoleon’s wedding in 1810 was celebrated with a great ball organised by the Austrian Ambassador to Paris, Karl Philipp von Schwarzenberg. The hall caught fire, killing a dozen or so, predominantly women because their clothing was more flammable. This created a European sensation, mostly for the manner of death of the most celebrated victim. Karl Philipp’s sister-in-law, Pauline, “was discovered under the remains of the burnt timber of the ball-room. She had succeeded in extricating herself, but had returned in search of her children, not having seen them effect their escape.” 1
If Pauline is the first Austrian portrayed on the organ-top, the second is probably Maria Pauline, her daughter, who was severely burned and died aged 23 in 1821. 2
As to the third, Rovigo lists three other female victims, amongst whom you may wish to choose: Sophia Theresia Walpurgis, Countess von der Leyen, Rhineland nobility; the wife of the Russian consul-general; and the wife of a French artillery officer, Touzard.
I don’t really know whether to finish the translation. On the one hand, translating something far beyond one’s capabilities is, along with pillow dictionaries and the composition of doggerel, a crucial step in learning a language; I can certainly contribute from a musical perspective; and selling little books is proving a nice little sideline. On the other, life is short and busy, and Marullo is obviously rather good anyway.
Animated Napoleonic scenes are quite common on top of Germanic barrel organs, but I don’t know of an illustration of this particular example. Tips welcome!
A populist US senator meets an Italian organ-grinder in Rome in 1859.
Two young American men are acting as cicerones for two older compatriots in an association they have called The Dodge Club:
Because our principle is to dodge all humbugs and swindles, which make travelling so expensive generally. We have gained much experience already, and hope to gain more. One of my friends is a doctor from Philadelphia, Doctor Snakeroot, and the other is Senator Jones from Massachusetts. Neither the Doctor nor the Senator understand a word of any language but the American.
The Canadian writer, James De Mille, published his The Dodge Club; or Italy in 1859 in Harper’s after the Civil War, when Europe and America’s poor were migrating westwards but the wealthy still took their holidays to the east:
HARMONY ON THE PINCIAN HILL.-MUSIC HATH CHARMS. –AMERICAN MELODIES.–THE GLORY, THE POWER, AND THE BEAUTY OF YANKEE DOODLE, AND THE MERCENARY SOUL OF AN ITALLAN ORGAN-GRINDER.
The Senator loved the Pincian Hill, for there he saw what he loved best; more than ruins, more than churches, more than pictures and statues, more than music. He saw man and human nature.
He had a smile for all; of superiority for the bloated aristocrat; of friendliness for the humble, yet perchance worthy mendicant. He longed every day more and more to be able to talk the language of the people.
On one occasion the Club was walking on the Pincian Hill, when suddenly they were arrested by familiar sounds which came from some place not very far away. It was a barrel-organ; a soft and musical organ; but it was playing “Sweet Home.”
“A Yankee tune,” said the Senator. “Let us go and patronize domestic manufacture. That is my idee of political economy.”
Reaching the spot they saw a pale, intellectual-looking Italian working away at his instrument.
“It’s not bad, though that there may not be the highest kind of musical instrument.”
“No,” said Buttons; “but I wonder that you, an elder of a church, can stand here and listen to it.”
“Why, what has the church to do with a barrel-organ?”
“Don’t you believe the Bible?”
“Of course,” said the Senator, looking mystified.
“Don’t you know what it says on the subject?”
“What the Bible says? Why no, of course not. It says nothing.”
“I beg your pardon. It says, ‘The sound of the grinding is low.’ See Ecclesiastes, twelfth, fourth.”
The Senator looked mystified, but said nothing. But suddenly the organ-grinder struck up another tune.
“Well, I do declare,” cried the Senator, delighted, “if it isn’t another domestic melody!”
It was “Independence Day.”
“Why, it warms my heart,” he said, as a flush spread over his fine countenance.
The organ-grinder received any quantity of baiocchi, which so encouraged him that he tried another—“Old Virginny.”
“That’s better yet,” said the Senator. “But how on airth did this man manage to get hold of these tunes?”
Then came others. They were all American: “Old Folks at Home,” “Nelly Bly,” “Suwannee Ribber,” “Jordan,” “Dan Tucker,” “Jim Crow.”
The Senator was certainly most demonstrative, but all the others were equally affected.
Those native airs; the dashing, the reckless, the roaringly-humorous, the obstreperously jolly—they show one part of the many-sided American character.
Not yet has justice been done to the nigger song. It is not a nigger song. It is an American melody. Leaving out those which have been stolen from Italian Operas, how many there are which are truly American in their extravagance, their broad humor, their glorious and uproarious jollity! The words are trash. The melodies are every thing.
These melodies touched the hearts of the listeners. American life rose before them as they listened. American life—free, boundless, exuberant, broadly-developing, self-asserting, gaining its characteristics from the boundless extent of its home – a continental life of limitless variety. As mournful as the Scotch; as reckless as the Irish; as solemnly patriotic as the English.
“Listen!” cried the Senator, in wild excitement.
It was “Hail Columbia.”
“The Pincian Hill,” said the Senator, with deep solemnity, “is glorified from this time forth and for evermore. It has gained a new charm. The Voice of Freedom hath made itself heard!”
The others, though less demonstrative, were no less delighted. Then came another, better yet. “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
“There!” cried the Senator, “is our true national anthem—the commemoration of national triumph; the grand upsoaring of the victorious American Eagle as it wings its everlasting flight through the blue empyrean away up to the eternal stars!”
He burst into tears; the others respected his emotion.
Then he wiped his eyes and looked ashamed of himself—quite uselessly—for it is a mistake to suppose that tears are unmanly. Unmanly! The manliest of men may sometimes shed tears out of his very manhood.
At last there arose a magic strain that produced an effect to which the former was nothing. It was “Yankee Doodle!”
The Senator did not speak. He could not find words. He turned his eyes first upon one, and then another of his companions; eyes beaming with joy and triumph—eyes that showed emotion arising straight from a patriot’s heart —eyes which seemed to say: Is there any sound on earth or above the earth that call equal this?
Yankee Doodle has never received justice. It is a tune without words. What are the recognized words? Nonsense unutterable—the sneer of a British officer. But the tune!—ah, that is quite another thing!
The tune was from the very first taken to the national heart, and has never ceased to be cherished there. The Republic has grown to be a very different thing from that weak beginning, but its national air is as popular as ever. The people do not merely love it. They glory in it. And yet apologies are sometimes made for it. By whom? By the soulless dilettante. The people know better:—the farmers, the mechanics, the fishermen, the dry-goods clerks, the news-boys, the railway stokers, the butchers, the bakers, the candlestick-makers, the tinkers, the tailors, the soldiers, the sailors. Why? Because this music has a voice of its own, more expressive than words; the language of the soul, which speaks forth in certain melodies which form an utterance of unutterable passion.
The name was perhaps given in ridicule. It was accepted with pride. The air is rash, reckless, gay, triumphant, noisy, boisterous, careless, heedless, rampant, raging, roaring, rattle-brainish, devil-may-care-ish, plague-take-the-hindmost-ish; but! solemn, stern, hopeful, resolute, fierce, menacing, strong, cantankerous (cantankerous is entirely an American idea), bold, daring—
Yankee Doodle has not yet received its Doo!
The Senator had smiled, laughed, sighed, wept, gone through many variations of feeling. He had thrown baiocchi till his pockets were exhausted, and then handed forth silver. He had shaken hands with all his companions ten times over. They themselves went not quite as far in feeling as he, but yet to a certain extent they went in.
And yet Americans are thought to be practical, and not ideal. Yet here was a true American who was intoxicated—drunk? By what? By sound, notes, harmony. By music.
“Buttons,” said he, as the music ceased and the Italian prepares to make his bow and quit the scene, “I must make that gentleman’s acquaintance.”
Buttons walked up to the organ-grinder.
“Be my interpreter,” said the Senator. “Introduce me.”
“What’s your name?” asked Buttons.
“Were you ever in America?”
“What does he say?” asked the Senator, impatiently.
“He says his name is Mr. Cloto, and he was never in America.”
“How did you get these tunes?”
“Out of my organ,” said the Italian, grinning.
“Of course; but how did you happen to get an organ with such tunes?”
“I bought it.”
“Oh yes; but how did you happen to buy one with these tunes?”
“For you illustrious American Signore. You all like to hear them.”
“Do you know any thing about the tunes?” “Signore?”
“Do you know what the words are?”
“Oh no. I am an Italian.”
“I suppose you make money out of them.”
“I make more in a day with these than I could in a week with other tunes.”
“You lay up money, I suppose.”
“Oh yes. In two years I will retire and let my younger brother play here.”
“What is it all?” asked the Senator.
“He says that he finds he makes money by playing American tunes to Americans.”
“Hm,” said the Senator, with some displeasure; “and he has no soul then to see-the beauty, the sentiment, the grandeur of his vocation!”
“Not a bit-he only goes in for money.”
The Senator turned away in disgust. “Yankee Doodle,” he murmured, “ought of itself to have a refining and converting influence on the European mind; but it is too debased-yes-yes-too debased.”
Maybe we are doomed, maybe we aren’t, and the oligarchy’s bots will get us anyway. I fear that my monkey is not of flesh and blood.
Harper’s New Monthly Magazine, founded on piracy, is in it’s way almost as enjoyable on the American West as Laura Ingalls Wilder and Rio Bravo, which we of course watched over Christmas. Check out Over the Plains to Colorado from the same year, 1867, as de Mille’s piece.
Or, How to cook the old lady who swallowed a fly without stooping to cannibalism. Cumulative songs (and monstrous nested stuffing recipes) in Quixote and Estebanillo González, with the grossest video you’ll see today.
Quijote and Estebanillo
One of my favourite English kids’ songs is “I know an old lady who swallowed a fly,” which I know from the Burl Ives version I heard as a child:
Current bedtime reading is La vida y hechos de Estebanillo González, the mid-C17th picaresque of a scoundrel’s adventures in the Thirty Years War. In Captain Stevens’ 1707 English translation, 1, a Spanish cumulative verse like “I know an old lady” is translated by reference to “The house that Jack built”:
My Master is such a Worthy Person, that he had rather see his Servants made much of, than please himself, and therefore he and his Friends never put their Landlords to any more Charge than a Dish of Imperial Stuff’d Meat with an Egg in it. He ask’d me, What that Stuff’d Meat was made of? And I bid him order me a new lay’d Egg, and a Squab Pidgeon, and two Loads of Coals, and to send for a Cobler, with his Nawl and Ends, and a Grave maker, with his Spade, and then he should know what else was wanting, that he might provide it, whilst we were at Work. The Landlord was amaz’d, and went away half beside himself, to get the Necessaries for the ordering of that Dish of Stuff’d Meat. A while after he return’d with all I had demanded, except the two Loads of Coals. I took the Egg and the Squab-Pidgeon, which I Gutted, and cutting it open enough with my Knife, for I had all my Tools about me, clapp’d the Egg into the Belly of it, and then said to him, Now, Sir, take Notice of this Stuff’d Meat, for it is just like the Tale the Children tell of, This is the Stick that beat the Dog, the Dog that bit the Cat, the Cat that kill’d the Mouse, the Mouse that eat the Malt, the Malt that lay in the House that Jack built; for this Egg is in the Pidgeon, the Pidgeon is to be put into a Partridge, the Partridge into a Pheasant, the Pheasant into a Pullet, the Pullet into a Capon, the Capon înto a Turkey, the Turkey into a Kid, the Kid into a Sheep, the Sheep into a Calf, and the Calf into a Cow, all these Creatures are to be Pull’d, Flea’d and Larded, except the Cow, which is to have her Hide on, and as they are thrüst one into another, like to a Nest of [English ]Boxes, the Cobler is to Sew every one up with an End, that they may not slip out; and when they are all fast Sew’d into the Cows Belly, the Grave Digger is to throw up a deep Trench, into which one Load of Coals is to be cast, and the Cow laid a top of it, and the other Load upon her, and the Fuel set on Fire, to Burn about four Hours, more or less; when the Meat being taken out, it is all Incorporated, and becomes such a delicious Dish, that formerly the Emperors us’d to Dine upon it on their Coronation Day, for which Reason, and because an Egg is the Foundation of all that curious Mess, it was call’d, The Imperial Egg Stuff’d Meat. 2
Before we look at Jack, some culinary credibility in this stuffing demonstration using real animals in Fernando Fernán Gómez’s 1974 Spanish Golden Age picaresque potpourri, El pícaro:
I hope that was gross enough. Back to Jack.
Stevens (1707) beats Wikipedia‘s first (1739) sighting of the house that Jack built by 32 years, so adepts may want to do a bit of gardening there. Cervantes in Quixote (1605), as well as an imperial relleno adobado like Estebanillo’s, 3 has a more extended version of Estebanillo’s Tom and Jerry cumulative song, which Shelton in 1612 translates more-or-less literally and without reference to Jack:
And so, as men say, the cat to the rat, the rat to the cord, the cord to the post; so the carrier struck Sancho, Sancho the wench, she returned him again his liberality with interest, and the inn-keeper laid load upon his maid also; and all of them did mince it with such expedition, as there was no leisure at all allowed to any one of them for breathing. 4
I think this is the same song of the starving grandparents found in Spanish oral tradition, whose accumulation is pretty much along the lines of the house that Jack built. A quick translation:
An old woman and an old man had nothing to eat but a cheese, and along came a (rhyming) rat and ate it.
Then along came the cat
And killed the rat
Which ate the cheese
Of grandma and grandpa.
Then along came the dog
And killed the cat
Which killed the rat
Which ate the cheese
Of grandma and grandpa.
Then along came the stick
And killed the dog
Which killed the cat
Which killed the rat
Which ate the cheese
Of grandma and grandpa.
Then along came the fire
And burnt the stick
Which killed the dog
Which killed the cat
Which killed the rat
Which ate the cheese
Of grandma and grandpa.
Then along came the water
And killed the fire
Which burnt the stick
Which killed the dog
Which killed the cat
Which killed the rat
Which ate the cheese
Of grandma and grandpa.
The ox to the fold
My story’s told
That couple so old
No cheese did behold. 5
But the verse is undated, and so while it might be older than Cervantes, so might it equally be a variant of some version of “The house that Jack built” taught to a Spanish girl by some Napoleon-fighting Brit during the Peninsular War, or some such curiosity, and so we will ignore it.
Spanish origins, or a universal technique?
So was the Jack architecture copied from the Spanish? Estebanillo is shorter in Spanish than English, which might suggest that Jack and other Aarne-Thompson 2035-type (food) chain songs were quite new in English in 1707 but already well-established in Spanish when the novel was published around 1650:
Original Repare vuesa merced en este relleno, porque es lo mismo que el juego del gato al rato Literal translation Your Grace, note this stuff’d meat, for it is just like the game of the cat with the mouse Stevens’ gloss Now, Sir, take Notice of this Stuff’d Meat, for it is just like the Tale the Children tell of, This is the Stick that beat the Dog, the Dog that bit the Cat, the Cat that kill’d the Mouse, the Mouse that eat the Malt, the Malt that lay in the House that Jack built
OK, then there’s the literality of the Cervantes translation, but the casual reference to the cat who killed the mouse (or, for you rhymers, the cat who the rat did splat) Canarian polylinguist Bartolomé Cairasco de Figueroa in Tragedia y martirio de Santa Catalina de Alejandría (ca. 1580) and the lack of any known source in English again might suggest that the device was deeply ingrained in Spain but not in England:
Éste es el gato
que mató al rato
On the other hand, perhaps this kind of thing was going on everywhere in the 16th century. I should be able to think of Dutch examples, and early German counting tales, Zählgeschichten, but can’t. Can you suggest anything in another language in early modern Europe?
Or perhaps it’s actually universal – of all places and times, a spinoff from the use in oral cultures of cumulative techniques for the rote-learning (particularly by children) of genealogies and itineraries. Let us imagine a visit to some early descendants of Shem in an Arabian desert:
Abraham begat Isaac;
Abraham begat Isaac; and Isaac begat Jacob;
Abraham begat Isaac; and Isaac begat Jacob; and Jacob begat Judas and his brethren;
… or some of Japheth’s spawn, shivering amid painted savages in a British marsh:
Venta Silurum, 9,000 paces
Venta Silurum, 9,000 paces; Abone, 14,000 paces;
Venta Silurum, 9,000 paces; Abone, 14,000 paces; Traiectus, 9,000 paces;
Afterword: cumulative song striptease?
What game did you play as a child with the house that Jack built? I can’t remember, but a book of dances and games (Bailes y juegos: diversiones varias para entretenimiento y recreo de las tertulias y sociedades… por un aficionado (1903)) describes what may be a rather unusual way of accompanying “La llave del jardín del rey,” the key of the garden of the king:
The game director takes a key with a cord tied to it and gives it to the player to his right, saying, “This is the key to the garden of the king.” The recipient passes it to the player to his right, saying the same thing, and thus the key travels from hand to hand until it returns to the director. He again hands it to the player to his right, saying, “This is the cord which holds the key which gives access to the garden of the king.” The recipient hands it to the following player, saying the same thing, and so on and so forth until the key comes once more into the hands of the director, who continues by saying, “This is the mouse which ate the cord which holds the key which gives access to the garden of the king,” which everyone else repeats. Then, when the key has been returned to the director, he continues, “This is the cat which ate the mouse which ate the cord which holds the key which gives access to the garden of the king.” Then he adds, “This is the lion which ate the cat which ate the mouse which ate the cord which holds the key which gives access to the garden of the king.” Finally, he adds, “This is the hunter who killed the lion which ate the cat which ate the mouse which ate the cord which holds the key which gives access to the garden of the king.” Thus the list increases, the director being empowered to vary the words as he wishes in order to cause more errors and the payment of more items of clothing. 6
Prenda is of course actually forfeit here, rather than an item of clothing, as in Dickens:
‘This,’ said Mr. Pickwick, looking round him, ‘this is, indeed, comfort.’ ‘Our invariable custom,’ replied Mr. Wardle. ‘Everybody sits down with us on Christmas Eve, as you see them now — servants and all; and here we wait, until the clock strikes twelve, to usher Christmas in, and beguile the time with forfeits and old stories. Trundle, my boy, rake up the fire.’
But search engines seek sensation. As did Pepys:
[A]fter dinner the Comptroller begun some sports, among others the naming of people round and afterwards demanding questions of them that they are forced to answer their names to, which do make very good sport. And here I took pleasure to take the forfeits of the ladies who would not do their duty by kissing of them; among others a pretty lady, who I found afterwards to be wife to Sir W. Batten’s son. Home, and then with my wife to see Sir W. Batten…
What a back-and-forth and to-and-fro of customs! And the Russians (or Fabergé at least) even prefer their nestled stuffings topsy-turvy, with the egg on the outside and the emperor inside! Where will it ever end!
- The printer was in Bearbinder Lane – check this splendid map of early modern London. ↩
- Mi amo es tan gran caballero que más quiere tener contentos a sus criados que no a su persona; y así él y sus camaradas no hacen de gasto al día a ningún patrón si no es un relleno imperial aovado.
Preguntóme que de qué se hacía el tal relleno. Respondíle que me mandase traer un huevo y un pichón recién nacido y dos carros de carbón, y mandase llamar a un zapatero de viejo, con alesna y cabos, y un sepolturero con su azada, y que sabría todo lo que había de buscar para empezar a trabajar en hacerlo.
El patrón, medio atónito y atemorizado, salió en busca de lo necesario al tal relleno, y a el cabo de poco espacio me trujo todo lo que le había pedido, excepto los dos carros de carbón. Toméle el huevo y el pequeño pichón, y abriéndolo con un cuchillo de mi sazonada herramienta, y metiéndole el huevo, después de haberle sacado las tripas, le dije desta forma:
-Repare vuesa merced en este relleno, porque es lo mismo que el juego del gato al rato: este huevo está dentro deste pichón, el pichón ha de estar dentro de una perdiz, la perdiz dentro de una polla, la polla dentro de un capón, el capón dentro de un faisán, el faisán dentro de un pavo, el pavo dentro de un cabrito, el cabrito dentro de un carnero, el carnero dentro de una ternera, y la ternera dentro de una vaca. Todo esto ha de ir lavado, pelado, desollado y lardeado, fuera de la vaca, que ha de quedar con su pellejo; y cuando se vayan metiendo unos en otros, como cajas de Inglaterra, por que ninguno se salga de su asiento los ha de ir el zapatero cosiendo a dos cabos, y en estando zurcidos en el pellejo y panza de la vaca, ha de hacer el sepolturero una profunda fosa, y echar en el suelo della un carro de carbón, y luego la dicha vaca, y ponerle encima el otro carro, y darle fuego cuatro horas, poco más o menos; y después, sacándola, queda todo hecho una sustancia y un manjar tan sabroso y regalado que antiguamente [lo] comían los emperadores el día de su coronación; por cuya causa, y por ser el huevo la piedra fundamental de aquel guisado, le daban por nombre relleno imperial aovado. ↩
- Cervantes 1615/Shelton 1620 ↩
- Y así como suele decirse “el gato al rato, el rato a la cuerda, la cuerda al palo”, daba el arriero a Sancho, Sancho a la moza, la moza a él, el ventero a la moza, y todos menudeaban con tanta priesa, que no se daban punto de reposo ↩
- Una vieja y un viejo no tenían para comer más que un queso, y vino un ratón y comióselo.
Entonces vino el gato
y mató al rato,
porque comió el queso
de la vieja y el viejo.
Vino el perro y mató al gato,
porque mató al rato
porque comió el queso
de la vieja y el viejo.
Vino el palo
y mató al perro,
porque mató al gato
porque mató al rato
porque comió el queso
de la vieja y el viejo.
Vino el fuego
y quemó el palo,
porque mató al perro
porque mató al gato
porque mató al rato
porque comió el queso
de la vieja y el viejo.
Vino el agua
y mató al fuego,
porque quemó el palo
porque mató al perro
porque mató al gato
porque mató al rato
porque comió el queso
de la vieja y el viejo.
El buey ya durmió
el cuento acabó
la vieja y el viejo
sin queso quedó. ↩
- El director del juego sacará una llave que tenga atado un cordón, y se la dará al jugador de su derecha, diciendo: «Esta es la llave del jardín del rey.» El que recibe la llave, la entregará al de su derecha, diciéndole lo mismo, y así irá la llave de mano en mano hasta que vuelva al director. Este volverá á entregar la llave al de su derecha, diciendo: «Este es el cordón que sostiene la llave que da entrada al jardín del rey.» El que la reciba, la dará al siguiente, diciéndole lo mismo, y así sucesivamente hasta su vuelta á manos del director, quien seguirá diciendo: «Este es el ratón que se comió el cordón que sostiene la llave que da entrada al jardín del rey», volviendo á repetirlo todos los demás. Luego el director continuará cuando vuelva á entregar la llave: «Este es el gato que se comió el ratón que se comió el cordón que sostiene la llave que da entrada al jardín del rey.» Después añadirá: «Este es el león que se comió el gato que se comió el ratón que se comió el cordón que sostiene la llave que da entrada al jardín del rey.» Por último, añadirá: «Y este es el cazador que mató el león que se comió el gato que se comió el ratón que se comió el cordón que sostiene la llave que da entrada al jardín del rey.» Así se irá aumentando la relación, teniendo facultad el director de variar las palabras que quiera, á fin de que resulten más equivocaciones y de que se paguen más prendas. ↩
But unfortunately he probably won’t figure in the results of the Singing Organ-Grinder’s historical explorations into English popular song.
Settling down to England, I’m being a good immigrant-monkey and polishing my repertoire of interesting and amusing popular music sung here over the centuries, in the hope of getting organ-grinding gigs with museums, galleries, political conspiracies and other prizers of the worthless, to add to the domestic circuit of weddings and divorces.
One great find yesterday was John Freeth (1731–1808), publican and poet, patriotic radical, aka John Free and, according to a review of his Political Songster in what had been Smollett’s Critical Review, “the Birmingham Pindar.” His “The Tripe-Eaters” looks very good, but until I or someone else spends 17 quid on the full transcription I’m going to devote some time to “Budget Day”:
Full twelve score millions of good pounds
JOHN BULL is said to owe;
But how or when ’tis to be paid,
Is what I wish to know.
A cent’ry past JOHN’s family
Was not a pin in debt;
How strange to think that still we find,
The ROGUE can credit get.
I think that Freeth’s longevity may have been down to his tempering his drinking and scribbling with walking, though the “Ballad-Singer’s Ramble to London” may not be autobiographical:
The First of April Sixty-three,
To London I went budging;
For know you, all of my Degree
Go on their Ten Toes trudging;
At Coventry I stop’d to see
If any Thing was wanting,
From Pocket Lodge, pull’d out my Fodge
And straitway fell to chanting.
And as I pass’d the Streets along,
The People round me gazing,
Some cry’d out, ’tis nobly sung,
And worthy of our praising;
In troth my Boy, I presently
Pick’d up a Double Grunter 1,
To the Ale-house then, away I ran,
And spent it with a Bunter. 2
Enjoyable in its way, though not on a par with Chatwin’s Songlines or Nine Daies Wonder: Performed in a Daunce from London to Norwich by Will Kemp, far more than Shakespeare’s clown, which I read a couple of months ago and then forgot:
The first mundaye in Lent, 3 the close morning promising a cleere day, (attended on by Thomas Slye my Taberer, William Bee my seruant, and George Sprat, appointed for my ouerseer, that I should take no other ease but my prescribed order) my selfe, thats I, otherwise called Caualiero Kemp, head-master of Morrice-dauncers, high Head-borough of heighs, and onely tricker of your Trill-lilles and best bel-shangles betweene Sion and mount Surrey, began frolickly to foote it from the right honorable the Lord Mayors of London towards the right worshipfull (and truely bountifull) Master Mayors of Norwich.
My setting forward was somewhat before seauen in the morning; my Taberer stroke up merrily; and as fast as kinde peoples thronging together would giue mee leaue, thorow London I leapt. By the way many good olde people, and diuers others of yonger yeers, of meere kindnes gaue me bowd sixepences and grotes, blessing me with their harty prayers and God-speedes.
Being past White-chappell, and hauing left faire London with all that North-east Suburb before named, multitudes of Londoners left not me: but eyther to keepe a custome which many holde, that Mile-end is no walke without a recreatiō at Stratford Bow with Creame and Cakes, or else for loue they beare toward me, or perhappes to make themselues merry if I should chance (as many thought) to giue over my Morrice within a Mile of Mile-end; how euer, many a thousand brought me to Bow; where I rested a while from dancing, but had small rest with those that would haue vrg’d me to drinking. But, I warrant you, Will Kemp was wise enough: to their ful cups, kinde thanks was my returne, with Gentlemanlike protestations, as “Truely, sir, I dare not,” “It stands not with the congruity of my health.” Congruitie, said I? how came that strange language in my mouth? I thinke scarcely that it is any Christen worde, and yet it may be a good worde for ought I knowe, though I neuer made it, nor doe verye well understand it; yet I am sure I have bought it at the word-mongers at as deare a rate as I could haue had a whole 100 of Bauines at the wood-mongers. Farwell, Congruitie, for I meane now to be more concise, and stand upon eeuener bases; but I must neither stand nor sit, the Tabrer strikes alarum. Tickle it, good Tom, Ile follow thee. Farwell, Bowe; haue ouer the bridge, where I heard say honest Conscience was once drownd: its pittye if it were so; but thats no matter belonging to our Morrice, lets now along to Stratford Langton.
Many good fellows being there met, and knowing how well I loued the sporte, had prepared a Beare-bayting; but so unreasonable were the multitudes of people, that I could only heare the Beare roare and the dogges howle; therefore forward I went with my hey-de-gaies to Ilford, where I againe rested, and was by the people of the towne and countrey there-about very very wel welcomed, being offred carowses in the great spoon, one whole draught being able at that time to haue drawne my little wit drye; but being afrayde of the olde Prouerbe (He had need of a long spoone that eates with the deuill), I soberly gaue my boone Companyons the slip.
From Ilford, by Moone-shine, I set forward, dauncing within a quarter of a myle of Romford; where, in the highway, two strong Iades (hauing belike some great quarrell to me vnknowne) were beating and byting either of other; and such through Gods help was my good hap, that I escaped their hoofes, both being raysed with their fore feete ouer my head, like two Smithes ouer an Anuyle.
There being the end of my first dayes Morrice, a kinde Gentleman of London lighting from his horse, would haue no nay but I should leap into his saddle. To be plaine with ye, I was not proud, but kindly tooke his kindlyer offer, chiefely thereto vrg’d by my wearines; so I rid to my Inne at Romford.
In that towne, to giue rest to my well-labour’d limbes, I continued two dayes, being much beholding to the townsmen for their loue, but more to the Londoners that came hourely thither in great numbers to visite me, offring much more kindnes then I was willing to accept.
Unfortunately the songs, contributed by friends (sponsors?), are no match for Kemp’s writing or dancing: 4
A Country Lasse, browne as a berry,
Blith of blee, in heart as merry,
Cheekes well fed, and sides well larded,
Euery bone with fat flesh guarded,
Meeting merry Kemp by chaunce,
Was Marrian in his Morrice daunce.
Her stump legs with bels were garnisht,
Her browne browes with sweating varnish[t];
Her browne hips, when she was lag
To win her ground, went swig a swag;
Which to see all that came after
Were repleate with mirthfull laughter.
Yet she thumpt it on her way
With a sportly hey de gay:
At a mile her daunce she ended,
Kindly paide and well commended.
Kemp was not a one-off. William Rowley in 1609 writes in A search for money. Or The lamentable complaint for the losse of the wandring knight, Mounsieur l’Argent Or come along with me, I know thou louest money. Dedicated to all those that lack money:
yee haue beene either eare-or-eye-witnesses or both to many madde voiages made of late yeares, both by sea and land, as the trauell to Rome with the returne in certaine daies, the wild morrise to Norrige, the fellowes going back-ward to Barwick, another hopping from Yorke to London, and the transforming of the top of Paules into a stable.
In 1601 William Bankes walked his extraordinary performing horse, Marocco, up more than a thousand steps to give a show on the roof of old St. Paul’s. Another Moorish reference…
Kemp also recalls Christmastide brass band house-to-house ramble-shambles in Lancashire, and frozen, drunken wanderings with carnival bands in the eastern Netherlands and the central Pyrenees. Tim FitzHigham repeated his (ahem) feat in 2008, adding the pleasing dramatic hook of a supposed argument between Shakespeare and Kemp:
Esther Webber has a nice clip of Jeremy Corbyn imitating Tim.
Despite its excellent wheeled carriage, I wouldn’t attempt any such thing with the current street organ: it weighs 80 kg and has a high centre of gravity, and on parade-type functions I’ve never pulled it along for more than a couple of miles. However, I hope that sometime, as part of the Bohemian project, I’ll get to carry a smaller organ from the Ore Mountains down to the Eger, singing 18th and early 19th century German songs as I go. (BTW: Does anyone know any Czech functionaries, preferably Ministry of Culture?)
How nice if Kemp were this lunatic:
The man in the moon came tumbling down
And asked his way to Norwich;
He went by the south and burnt his mouth
With supping cold pease porridge.
He does indeed take the southeastern route through Chelmsford (the pre-19th century Fens were still rather damp) but there’s no mention of porridge.
- In Strine, a double bed, but here probably Partridge‘s shilling. ↩
- Partridge: “A low, esp. a low thieving, harlot.” ↩
- … during which players were meant to shut up shop, and thus often sought alternatives. ↩
- Norwich honoured him by nailing his buskins to the Guildhall wall, “It is hardly necessary,” notes the Rev. Dyce in 1839, “to inform the reader that no memorial of Kemp is now extant in that building.” ↩
[:en]Impossible automata for my street organ this holiday season. Featuring Georg Büchner, Ignaz Bruder, German Christmas pyramids, dancing Hasidim, Lieutenant Kijé as you’ve probably never seen it, Le Tigre, and a crustacean.[:]
[:en]The other day someone sent me some of the excellent light verse produced at Theresienstadt, the Nazis’ photogenic waiting room for Auschwitz and other extermination camps. Doing a bit of backreading, I met up again with the barrel-organ metaphysics (more another time) of Reinhard Heydrich, Butcher of Bohemia and Moravia. That same someone then sent me the source of that story -Lina Heydrich, Leben mit einem Kriegsverbrecher (“Life with a War Criminal”, 1976)- and located in the final chorus of Heydrich Senior’s sentimental opera, Das Leierkind (“The Barrel-Organ Child”), 1 the quote in question:
Ja, die Welt ist nur ein Leierkasten,
den unser Herrgott selber dreht,
und jeder muss nach dem Liede tanzen,
das grad’ auf der Walze steht.
An alternative translation:
Yes, the world is but a barrel-organ
Which our Lord God himself doth grind,
And all must dance unto the song
With which the cylinder is tined. 2
You can’t (always) blame fathers for their sons. Heydrich Senior is merely echoing the blows of fate/fateful bellows attributed to organ-grinders in 18th and 19th century romantic fiction – Büchner’s ballad singer’s quasi-Lutheranism announcing Marie’s betrayal with the drum-major of Woyzeck (1837), for example:
Auf der Welt ist kein Bestand,
Wir müssen alle sterben,
das ist uns wohlbekannt.
Topical lyrics of this type had their visual counterpoint in ballad busking in a) proto-PowerPoint illustrations, and/or b) social and occasionally political automated tableaux which, along with bellows and barrel, ran off the crank on many Black Forest organs. The latter seem to have developed from the the region’s weight-powered flute clock automata, and Ignaz Bruder of Waldkirch (1780-1845) is their best-known manufacturer:
They offer more wide-ranging but less precise theatrics than my splendid organ-god – none of them beat 4/4 or 3/4:
But let’s cut to the chase. Automations seen this Christmas which I might try to add to the organ if I were a rich wastrel:
- I met a nice small candle-powered Christmas pyramid/Weihnachtspyramide at the German Deli in Hackney Wick. Here‘s a similar one:
I’d go for a triple-decker cranked version populated with home-made figures representing farmers, warriors and priests, or promotors, policemen, and bureaucrats, crowned by an organ-grinder. Say no to electrically-powered Star Wars scenes:
Large municipal executions have also become popular over the last couple of decades. Like the one above, to eliminate draughts and working people they are usually mains-powered and use decorative lightbulb candles and recorded music:
I think I recall seeing a very large hybrid incorporating a carousel ride at a fair I played at once in Germany, but I can’t find anything on YouTube and I was probably tipsy.
- A bunch of (male) Haredim hand-in-hand, observed dancing around in a circle outside a house on Stamford Hill, London, humming a song. They were rather like this:
- Everyone knows the sleigh ride/troika from the Prokofiev’s orchestral suite:
… but the virtually unknown eponymous film (1934), with its Hitlerian Emperor Paul I, is quite marvellous, and the robotic servants of the machine society -how un-Soviet!- are simply dying for recycling:
Work is said to be underway on a device that will coordinate music playback with video in order to enable me to (write music for and) accompany (suitably edited) films.
- “Deceptacon” by Le Tigre (ta, SG), which, like the Fellini / Rota partnership, surely owes a lot to the Kijé generation:
- A lobster. Robert Conquest’s paraphrase of Shakespeare’s take on the ages of man in As you like it:
Seven Ages: first puking and mewling
Then very pissed-off with your schooling
Then fucks, and then fights
Next judging chaps’ rights
Then sitting in slippers: then drooling.
The path to the pot is plagued by good purpose. The DG’s splendid adjunct auntie S has a pet herring gull, rescued as a broken-winged chick, and loves animals. 4 Having plied the organ-grinder with champagne and milk-based vodka, the DG announced to her that the organ-grinder had a pet lobster, rather like Gérard de Nerval:
Why should a lobster be any more ridiculous than a dog? …or a cat, or a gazelle, or a lion, or any other animal that one chooses to take for a walk? I have a liking for lobsters. They are peaceful, serious creatures. They know the secrets of the sea, they don’t bark, and they don’t gnaw upon one’s monadic privacy like dogs do. And Goethe had an aversion to dogs, and he wasn’t mad.
“Oh, how wonderful,” she exclaimed. “And where do you keep it?!”
But the organ-top would be a more impressive and in many ways satisfactory location.
- Anyone got a score? ↩
- Tined? Wassat? ↩
- I like Motton’s first line -I was looking for a two-syllable noun meaning permanence- but I’d also like to hang onto the Bestand/bekannt rhyme. Motton says Leierkasten is a hurdy-gurdy, which is quite reasonable, and the BBC turns it into a simple violin, which is pretty naughty given their wealth. ↩
- Though she was enjoying her beef stew. ↩
- Milton says (Samson Agonistes (1671)) that seraphim can play trumpets in between singing the old “Holy, holy, holy!” or whatever else they get up to:
Where the bright Seraphim in burning row
Their loud up-lifted Angel trumpets blow,
And the Cherubick host in thousand quires
Touch their immortal harps of golden wires
[:en]Pleasures and treasures of the Edwardian street, by a descendant of Scottish banditti.[:]
[:en]Market man, Mohammed S., is one of the most interesting people I’ve met since coming to London. He’s a fan of the organ act, which for him recalls the Parisian component of a Franco-Algerian childhood, but I think I’m right in saying that his true love is the old-style general-purpose street market, for which love he appears to have spent time in limbo.
I hope that that kind of market will survive the tsunami of fast food stalls for the asset-owning classes 1, and I think from Doris Neish’s splendid memoir of life at Archway around the time of the First World War – excerpt below – that she would also have been a fan of markets that were all things to all poissons.
Doris was born in 1908, the eleventh child of the London-Scottish part-time poet, William Neish, and his wife, Mary Ann McBeath. A collection of William’s work was published posthumously as Where the Apple-Ringie Grows. I haven’t managed to obtain a copy, but I suspect it will be cautious in approach and melancholy in tone. William Anderson, The Scottish Nation: Or the Surnames, Families, Literature, Honours, and Biographical History of the People of Scotland (1867):
[The MacNabs] carried on a deadly feud with the Neishes or McIlduys (?), a tribe which possessed the upper parts of Strathearn, and inhabited an island in the lower part of Loch Earn, called from them Neish island. Many battles were fought between them, with various success. The last was at Glenboultachan, about two miles north of Loch Earn foot, in which the Macnabs were victorious, and the Neishes cut off almost to a man. A small remnant of them, however, still lived in the island referred to, the head of which was an old man, who subsisted by plundering the people in the neighbourhood. One Christmas, the chief of the Macnabs had sent his servant to Crieff for provisions, but, on his return, he was waylaid, and robbed of all his purchases. He went home, therefore, empty-handed, and told his tale to the laird. Mscnab had twelve sons, all men of great strength, but one in particular exceedingly athletic, who was called for a byname, Iain mion Mac an Appa, or “Smooth John Macnab.” In the evening, these men were gloomily meditating some signal revenge on their old enemies, when their father entered, and said in Gaelic, “The night is the night, if the lads were but lads!” Each man instantly started to his feet, and belted on his dirk, his claymore, and his pistols. Led by their brother John, they set out, taking a fishing-boat on their shoulders from Loch Tay, carrying it over the mountains and glens till they reached Loch Earn, where they launched it, and passed over to the island. All was silent in the habitation of Neish. Having all the boats at the island secured, they had gone to sleep without fear of surprise. Smooth John, with his foot dashed open the door of Neish’s house; and the party, rushing in, attacked the unfortunate family, every one of whom was put to the sword, with the exception of one man and a boy, who concealed themselves under a bed. Carrying off the heads of the Neishes, and any plunder they could secure, the youths presented themselves to their father, while the piper struck up the pibroch of victory.
Stirling and Kenney, The Scottish tourist, and itinerary: or, A guide to the scenery and antiquities of Scotland and the western islands. With a description of the principal steam-boat tours (1830) adds an indispensable detail:
In commemoration of this event, the Macnabs have a Neish’s head for the family crest, with the motto Dread Nought.
It is a great shame that, following the success of his Irish Gaelic parodies, Flann O’Brien didn’t spend time in Scotland.
Doris lived in Harberton Road from 1914 until her death in 1993 and wrote up her memories for the Islington Gazette in the late 1960s. This excerpt is reproduced with the kind permission of Kristina Kashvili, who transcribed them, and with thanks to intermediary MM:
Remembering back over the years everything has altered but with change there was an often better substitute. But – there is a gap. Never replaced were the “Voices of the Streets”. Every trader from the errand boys whistling, to the street singers, could by sound identify themselves. “Coal, coal” – “Sweep”. There he would be with rods and brushes perched on his shoulder and his face still sooty from his previous jobs. “Any old rags, any old bones, any old iron”! Also the man with his tray of freshly backed muffins on his head – ringing a bell. They come no more. The old [but presumably pretty strong] lady who would drag a barrel organ up the Archway Road to give us music – the flute player and the couple whose soprano and tenor voices harmonized in “Love’s Old Sweet Song”. Bells used to ring, large clocks would chime. It is over 50 years since I last saw the lady with a basket on her arm and heard her singing
Won’t you buy my sweet Lavender
Sixteen bunches for one penny
You buy it once – you buy it twice
It makes your clothes smell fresh and nice
Only the memory, like the scent from lavender lingers.
Someone special was a man who would come sometimes near the close of a warm day and play a harp. He would sit on a stool while people gathered near. Into his cap would drop not only pennies but silver threepenny pieces. In the gathering dusk his beautiful music would fill the air and fill us with happiness.
So long ago these simple pleasures
Through memory’s door – return as treasures
There’s a barrel-organ carolling across a golden street
In the City as the sun sinks low;
Though the music’s only Verdi there’s a world to make it sweet
Just as yonder yellow sunset where the earth and heaven meet
Mellows all the sooty City! Hark, a hundred thousand feet
Are marching on to glory through the poppies and the wheat
In the land where the dead dreams go.
I think Doris has aged better, and wish I could trace that couplet. (Perhaps it is a Neish-ism.) Here though is John McCormack in 1927 singing Love’s Old Sweet Song (Just a Song at Twilight):
- But then with the addition of the itinerant boxers I met in the Rif, and the great piles of junk scattered over the grounds of the old Encants in Barcelona. Speaking as an amateur cook, at the moment my absolute favourite markets in East London are probably the wholesalers:
- New Spitalfields in Leyton – open after the pub, but less confusing after a few hours sleep for purchasers of wedding flowers, or of the “Fruits and Vegetables … which could be cost effictive, qualitative and quantitative and fresh too” of these Punjabi lions‘; it’s also convenient for Lea duck and Eurostar Engineering;
- Billingsgate – Spanish with rucksacks full of cheap octopus, again best before dawn.
But the greater your distance from the money, the better the knife stalls. ↩
[:es]No se parece a un pavo normal porque es de raza catalana muy especial, y además es de corral y orgánico, dice mi amigo del bar en la esquina. ¿Qué haría sin mis nuevos amigos de aquí?[:en]It doesn’t look like a normal turkey because it’s a special Catalan breed, and it’s also free-range and organic, says my friend from the bar on the corner. What would I do without my new friends here?
[:es]Se paró de predicar el crecimiento cero hace unos años, y kilómetro cero se ha convertido en marca de un vendedor de coches, que quizá no lo son.
¡Consolémosnos con kazoos de organillero, ya a la venta en persona, y dentro de poco en línea![:en]People stopped preaching zero growth a few years ago, y km0 is now the brand of a vendor of cars, which may not be.
Let us console ourselves with organ-grinder kazoos, now on sale in person, and shortly online![:]
Una cosa que es molt certa
Prontament vay a cantà
Esplicant del polls y pusas,
Que may se cansan de picà:
Ells de la nit fan dia,
Que trevallan sense po.
Polls y pusas al diable
Gent de mala condició.
Más repertorio aquí. Otra adición reciente es una versión ska del original de 1949 de Guy Lombardo de Enjoy Yourself, con el cual más tarde tuvieron éxito Prince Buster y luego The Specials. Y el traductor castellano-andaluz ya funciona. Ahora hay que mirar en serio el primer LP y cosas teatrales para el verano de 2014. Voy a estar unas semanas fuera a partir del 30/10 pero volveré para Navidad.[:]