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. ↩
The latest barrel organ news from Hackney, London.
A new translation of Joan Maragall’s poem about the anarchist bombing of the Barcelona Opera in 1893, and a limerick by the monkey.
The monkey has come up with a characteristically obtuse and flippant reaction to the London Bridge attack:
My head is still firmly in place, boom boom,
My arse is not next to my face, boom boom,
But peace-loving neighbours
With soft sighing sabres
Urge centring my shite in one place, boom boom.
Fortunately my repertoire consists exclusively of lyrics by wiser and more gifted souls. The poet Joan Maragall was at the opera house on Barcelona’s Rambla for Rossini’s William Tell in November 1893 when an anarchist, Santiago Salvador, threw two Orsini bombs into the stalls, killing 22 and wounding 35. Maragall’s first daughter, Helena, had been born in May, and he wove those two circumstances into the following:
Tornant del Liceu en la nit del 7 de novembre de 1893.
Furient va esclatant l’odi per la terra,
regalen sang les coll-torçades testes,
i cal anar a les festes,
amb pit ben esforçat, com a la guerra.
A cada esclat mortal – la gent trèmola es gira:
la crueltat que avança, – la por que s’enretira,
se van partint el món…
Mirant al fill que mama, – a la mare que sospira,
el pare arruga el front.
Pro l’infant innocent,
que deixa, satisfet, la buidada mamella,
se mira an ell, se mira an ella,
i riu bàrbarament.
Returning from the Liceu on the night of November 7, 1893.
Across the land this hatred now fiercely roars,
From twisted-throated heads gush bloody presents.
At parties now, our presence,
With chests puffed boldly out, is as for war.
At every mortal blast, the trembling people wend:
As cruelty marches onwards, so fear flees without end,
They cleave the world between them…
The father wrinkles his brow, observes his suckling son,
The mother’s dark suspicions.
But the infant, free from sin,
Who, satiated, leaves the breast grown slim,
Looks at her, and looks at him,
And gives a barb’rous grin.
Another English version by a well-known translator respects neither rhyme nor meter, as it were chopping off the legs off this great lover of rumpty-tumpty Italian opera (dixit Maria-Aurèlia Capmany), who has just walked away from death. Can’t be having that.
Spanish anarchism, like modern Islamism, promised that slaughter would usher in paradise, and states-within-the-state were improvised in 1936-7. The movement was then virtually exterminated by the local franchise of the Soviet Communist Party and Franco’s lot. Older Spanish precedent for dealing with ethnoreligious parallel polities, with their own laws and fiscality, is also not encouraging for anybody. Ya veremos.
With acrobats, clowns, and Doris and Thisbe, goddesses of wind.
And then we used to have these buskers. They used to come with a barrel organ. They must have been what we call today transvestites and they would play this barrel organ and dance and do acrobats and things like that, dressed up in the oldest and the shabbiest type of dresses and things like that. The man that played the organ was never dressed … he was dressed in trousers, but the others were all … well, we knew they were men by the look of them and if they saw the police coming they would scoot away, but you gave them a ha’penny and they made quite a collection.
Anyone got a photo of such a troupe? Perhaps more entertaining than Barcelona’s Moorish tumblers:
The police may still have cared about public morality when Dora Lee was young, but this was also the age of Douglas Byng, the great pantomime dame, who appeared on a trapeze singing “I’m Doris the goddess of wind,” and who here sings a little song of spring:
It was also an age before competition from television caused the infantilisation of circus audiences and of white clowns, whose white makeup and black melancholy had given them something of the air of the female impersonators. Here’s Fellini’s white clown saying goodbye to his augusto, accompanied by some rather splendid music and horsing around:
And such shows involving barrel organs were not new. Here’s a back-to-front example from the 1861 diary of Arthur Munby, establishment fetishist of working women:
Home to the Temple at 6 and to [Mudie’s Lending Library]. Coming thence along Oxford Street, I saw before me, striding along in company with an Italian organ-grinder, a tall young man in full Highland costume; wearing a Glengarry bonnet, a scarlet jacket, a sporran and a tartan kilt and stockings, his legs bare from the knee to the calf. It was not a man – it was Madeleine Sinclair the street dancer, whom I used to see in a similar dress a year ago. She and her companion turned into a quiet street, and she danced a Highland fling to his music, in the midst of a curious crowd.
For no one could make out whether she was a man or a woman. Her hair and the set of her hips indeed were feminine; but her hard weather-stained face, her large bony hands, and her tall strong figure, became her male dress so well that opinions about equally divided as to her sex. “It’s a man!” said one, confidently: “I believe that it’s a woman”, another doubtfully replied. One man boldly exclaimed “Of course it’s a man; anybody can see that!” I gave her a sixpence when she came round with her tambourine; and she told me she had been in Paris for five months for pleasure, and was now living on Saffron Hill [i.e. amidst Italian immigrants], and dancing in the streets every day, always wearing her male clothes.
The excerpt is from the most enjoyable A London Year: 365 Days of City Life in Diaries, Journals and Letters.
And then there’s Old Bess, who has probably been banned from Morris dancing along with blackface, and Thisbe aka Flute the Bellows-Mender – pretty close to an organ:
Not to mention the mock queens and virgins of older festivals.
In gathering material about the world of the organ grinder, I’ve certainly been neglecting some non-simian sidekicks. More suggestions most welcome, as always.
I dread to think what would happen to you (m) nowadays if you dressed up as a woman and danced round a barrel organ in the back streets of Whitechapel.
- I’m afraid the British Library seems to have made a bit of a mess of the metadata for its sound collection. Another entry has an interesting abstract:
Fanny Lander talks about her background and family; her father (bricklayer); the buildings he worked on; the school she went to; memories of Scan and Will Tester playing for dances; working in service for an Irish family; dancing at the Servants Ball in the Coach and Horses, Chelwood Gate; changes in the village (Chelwood Gate); farming; memories of organ-player and monkey; local gypsies; Linfield Fair; Brighton man who used to sing outside the post office; Maggie Ridley (school friend); East Grinstead band; Danehill bell ringers; Albert and Walter Lucas; hand bell ringers in Coach and Horses on Boxing Day; how she and her husband housed two evacuee children from Bermondsey during the war; East Grinstead at start of World War 1; more about being in service; closeness between servants and family; songs sung at home; dancing [at this point Reg Hall plays melodeon – see Item Notes]. Will Marten and his sister Mary then join conversation and they all discuss Scan Tester’s family; pub songs; poverty being reflected in the music; Ashdown Forest; changes in farming; comparisons of town and country; moving sheep from Romney Marsh; increase in local traffic; anecdotes about local policeman and cars, 1920s/1930s; anecdote about San Tester’s brother Trayton.
But, as another part of the metadata indicates, the recording is actually of Bates, Charlie, 1909- (speaker, male), and Wood, Bert, 1890- (speaker, male) talking about something completely different, and Ms Lander is nowhere else to be found. ↩
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.” ↩
Now you see ’em, now you don’t.
Bearing in mind that Waltham Forest used to be in Essex, here’s a bleeding hunk of Song 19:
✼ THE ARGUMENT. The Muse, now over Thames makes forth, Upon her Progresse to the North, From Cauney with a full carrere, Shee up against the streame doth beare; Where Waltham Forrests pride exprest, Shee poynts directly to the East, And shewes how all those Rivers straine Through Essex, to the German mayne; When Stoure, with Orwels ayd prefers, Our Brittish brave Sea-voyagers; Halfe Suffolke in with them shee takes, Where of this Song an end shee makes. [THE SONG ...] But Muse, from her so low, divert thy high-set song To London-wards, and bring from Lea with thee along The Forrests, and the Floods, and most exactly show, How these in order stand, how those directly flow: For in that happy soyle, doth pleasure ever wonne, Through Forrests, where cleere Rills in wild Meanders runne; Where daintie Summer Bowers, and Arborets are made, Cut out of Busshy thicks, for coolenesse of the shade. Fooles gaze at painted Courts, to th’countrey let me goe, To climbe the easie hill, then walke, the valley lowe; No gold-embossed Roofes, to me are like the woods; No Bed like to the grasse, nor liquor like the floods: A Citie’s but a sinke, gay houses gawdy graves, The Muses have free leave, to starve or live in caves: But Waltham Forrest still in prosperous estate, As standing to this day (so strangely fortunate) Above her neighbour Nymphs, and holds her head aloft; 30A turfe beyond them all, so sleeke and wondrous soft, Upon her setting side, by goodly London grac’d, Upon the North by Lea, her South by Thames embrac’d. Upon her rising point, shee chaunced to espie, A daintie Forrest-Nymph of her societie. Faire Hatfield, which in height all other did surmount, And of the Dryades held in very high account; Yet in respect of her stood farre out of the way, Who doubting of her selfe, by others late decay, Her sisters glory view’d with an astonish’d eye, Whom Waltham wisely thus reprooveth by and by.
I can’t say that from from Walthamstow village or anywhere else in the borough I’ve ever seen Hatfield Forest (which Wikipedia, contradicting Drayton, claims to be “the only remaining intact Royal Hunting Forest”), but maybe divine eyes or even binoculars are required. Pleased later by the reference to Walfleet, which is to say Wallasea, oysters, and there’s much more, and even Robin Hood. If you pay me I’ll sing the bludy thing.
[:en]He also coined “flaxen Saxon.” With other absurdities.[:]
[:en]Kindle says I’m 55% through the devilish ditties. I’m still quite unsure what to believe, but doubts are stilled by the flow of gags and witticisms:
– Once as a girl on Battle Hill, she was fond of recounting, always in the same time-polished words, – once as a solitary child, I found myself, quite suddenly and with no sense of strangeness, in the middle of a war. Longbows, maces, pikes. The flaxen-Saxon boys, cut down in their sweet youth. Harold Arroweye and William with his mouth full of sand. Yes, always the gift, the phantom-sight. – The story of the day on which the child Rosa had seen a vision of the battle of Hastings had become, for the old woman, one of the defining landmarks of her being, though it had been told so often that nobody, not even the teller, could confidently swear that it was true. I long for them sometimes, ran Rosa’s practised thoughts. Les beaux jours: the dear, dead days. She closed, once more, her reminiscent eyes. When she opened them, she saw, down by the water’s edge, no denying it, something beginning to move.
What she said aloud in her excitement: ‘I don’t believe it!’ – ‘It isn’t true!’ – ‘He’s never here!’ – On unsteady feet, with bumping chest, Rosa went for her hat, cloak, stick. While, on the winter seashore, Gibreel Farishta awoke with a mouth full of, no, not sand.
But all the book’s bons mots can’t be the invention of one man, albehe in league with Him Downstairs! And thank goodness, and perhaps this is a token of the author’s affection for 18th and 19th century British fiction, the tradition of the flaxen Saxon may have been invented in 1851 by Henry Mayhew.
I know Mayhew for the same reason you do, but it turns out that London Labour and the London Poor was far from the be-all and end-all of his literary life. His novel, 1851, or, The adventures of Mr. and Mrs. Sandboys and family who came up to London to “enjoy themselves” and to see the Great Exhibition (1851), presents a pilgrimage more bizarre even than Ayesha’s drown-doomed exodus:
THE GREAT EXHIBITION was about to attract the sight-seers of all the world—the sight-seers, who make up nine-tenths of the human family. The African had mounted his ostrich. The Crisp of the Desert had announced an excursion caravan from Zoolu to Fez. The Yakutskian Shillibeer had already started the first reindeer omnibus to Novogorod. Penny cargoes were steaming down Old Nile, in Egyptian “Daylights;” and “Moonlights,” while floating from the Punjaub, and congregating down the Indus, Scindiau “bridesmaids” and “bachelors” came racing up the Red Sea, with Burmese “watermen, Nos. 9 and 12,” calling at the piers of Muscat and Aden, to pick up passengers for the Isthmus—at two-pence a-head.
But Mayhew takes the Dickensian and Rushdian view that there is nowt so strange as one’s compatriots, particularly in this case those from Cumberland:
Early the next morning, Mrs. Sandboys, with Jobby and Elcy, went down to the Fish Inn, to see the dozen carts and cars leave, with the united villagers of Buttermere, for the “Travellers’ Train” at Cockermouth. There was the stalwart Daniel Fleming, of the White Howe, mounted on his horse, with his wife, her baby in her arms, and the children, with the farm maid, in the cart,—his two men trudging by its side. There was John Clark, of Wilkinsyke, the farmer and statesman, with his black-haired sons, Isaac and Johnny, while Richard rode the piebald pony; and Joseph and his wife, with little Grace, and their rosy-cheeked maid, Susannah, from the Fish Inn, sat in the car, kept at other times for the accommodation of their visitors. After them came Isaac Cowman, of the Croft, the red-faced farmer-constable, with his fine tall, flaxen, Saxon family about him; and, following in his wake, his Roman-nosed nephew John, the host of “The Victoria,” with his brisk, bustling wife on his arm. Then came handsome old John Lancaster, seventy years of age, and as straight as the mountain larch, with his wife and his sons, Andrew and Robert, and their wives. And following these, John Branthwaite, of Bowtherbeck, the parish-clerk, with his wife and wife’s mother; and Edward Nelson, the sheep-breeder, of Gatesgarth, dressed in his well-known suit of grey, with his buxom gude-wife, and her three boys and her two girls by her side; while the fresh-coloured bonnie lassie, her maid, Betty Gatesgarth, of Gatesgarth, in her bright green dress and pink ribbons, strutted along in their wake. Then came the Riggs: James Rigg, the miner, of Scots Tuft, who had come over from his work at Cleator for the special holiday; and there were his wife and young boys, and Jane Rigg, the widow, and her daughter Mary Ann, the grey-eyed beauty of Buttermere, in her jaunty jacket-waisted dress; with her swarthy black-whiskered Celtic brother, and his pleasant-faced Saxon wife carrying their chubby-cheeked child; and behind them came Ann Rigg, the slater’s widow, from Craig House, with her boys and little girl; and, leaning on their shoulders, the eighty-years-old, white-haired, Braithwaite Rigg and his venerable dame; and close upon them was seen old Rowley Lightfoot, his wife, and son John. Squire Jobson’s man walked beside the car from the Fish Inn, talking to the tidy, clean old housekeeper of Woodhouse; while the Squire himself rode in the rear, proud and happy as he marshalled the merry little band along;—for, truth to say, it would have been difficult to find in any other part of England so much manliness and so much rustic beauty centred in so small a spot.
As they moved gently along the road, John Cowman, the host of the Victoria, struck up the following well-known song, which was welcomed with a shout from the whole “lating:”—
Ah, him again.
If you’ve read Mayhew’s interview in London Labour with the Italian organ-grinder (“When I am come in this country I had nine or ten year old, so I know the English language better than mine”), you’re probably the kind of person who’ll also want to ponder the mysterious mechanical instrument in Mayhew’s list of imagined musical entertainment at the Exhibition:
St. Paul’s and Westminster Abbey (“in consequence of the increased demand”) were about to double their prices of admission, when M. JULLIEN, “ever ready to deserve the patronage of a discerning public,” made the two great English cathedrals so tempting an offer that they “did not think themselves justified in refusing it.” And there, on alternate nights, were shortly to be exhibited, to admiring millions, the crystal curtain, the stained glass windows illuminated with gas, and the statues lighted up with rose-coloured lamps; the “Black Band of his Majesty of Tsjaddi, with a hundred additional bones;” the monster Jew’s harp; the Euhurdy-gurdychon; the Musicians of Tongoose; the Singers of the Maldives; the Glee Minstrels of Paraguay; the Troubadours of far Vancouver; the Snow Ball Family from the Gold Coast; the Canary of the Samoiedes; the Theban Brothers; and, “expressly engaged for the occasion,” the celebrated Band of Robbers from the Desert.
Double misfortune: Cruikshank doesn’t draw it (maybe pro-Brexit campaigners will have a go), and the Xenodokeion Pancosmopolitanicon in the next para is not an instrument but a package deal for the posh.
Other marvellous entertainment biz sideshows in SR’s, so far: tragic Osman, the ex-untouchable bullock-clown; the German-style Mughal ballad singers with illustrations held up on cloths; the horned beast on the snowy beach singing Jingle Bells; ditto entering an African evangelical service in London to the sounds of “Fix me, Jesus” (we’re still allowed to laugh at them); Mrs Torture (you may remember her); the Hal Valance, the grotesque TV marketeer who makes clavichords in his spare time…
More anon on real mechanical musical instruments at 19th century expositions.
Was the Saxon flaxen? Is white-van man a klaxon Saxon? So much to say, so little time:
[:en]Featuring O du lieber Augustin, the Thomases Dekker and Middleton, Daniel Defoe and various disreputable beggars and foreigners.[:]
- Statue + story
Statue + story
A serendipity in The flowers of literature (1824) links the sculpture portrayed above to a story:
In a garden, on the terrace in Totteuham-court-road, is a statue, which is an original work of the famous Caius Gabriel Cibber, the father of Colley Cibber.
The statue in question is executed on a fine free-stone, representing a Bagpiper in a sitting posture, playing on his pipes, with his dog and keg of liquor by his side, the latter of which stands upon a neat stone pedestal.
The following singular history is attached to its original execution. During the great plague of London, carts were sent round the city each night, the drivers of which rung a bell, as intimation for every house to bring out its dead. The bodies were then thrown promiscuously into the cart, and conveyed to a little distance in the environs, where deep ditches were dug, in which they were deposited.
The piper (as represented in the statue) had his constant stand at the bottom of Holborn, near St. Andrew’s church. He became well known about the neighbourhood, and picked up a living from the passengers going that way, who generally threw him a few pence as the reward of his musical talents. A certain gentleman, who never failed in his generosity to the piper, was surprised, on passing one day as usual, to miss him from his accustomed place:—upon inquiry, he found that the poor man had been taken ill in consequence of a very singular accident. On the joyful occasion of the arrival of one of his countrymen from the Highlands, the piper had in fact made too free with the contents of his keg: these so overpowered his faculties, that he stretched himself out upon the steps of the church, and fell fast asleep. These were not times to sleep on church steps with impunity. He was found in this situation when the dead cart went its rounds; and the carter supposing of course, as the most likely thing in every way, that the man was dead, made no scruple to put his fork under the piper’s belt, and, with some assistance, hoisted him into his vehicle, which was nearly full, with the charitable intention that our Scotch musician should share the usual brief ceremonies of interment. The piper’s faithful dog protested against the seizure of his master, and attempted to prevent the unceremonious removal; but, failing of success, he fairly jumped into the cart after him, to the no small annoyance of the men, whom he would not suffer to come near the body; he further took upon himself the office of chief mourner, by setting up the most lamentable howling as they passed along.
The streets and roads by which they had to go being very rough, the jolting of the cart, added to the howling of the dog, had soon the effect of awakening our drunken musician from his trance. It was dark; and the piper, when he first recovered himself, could form no idea either of his numerous companions or his conductors. Instinctively, however, he felt about for his pipes, and playing up a merry Scotch tune, terrified, in no small measure, the carters, who fancied they had got a legion of ghosts in their conveyance. A little time, however, put all to rights;—lights were got, and it turned out that the noisy corpse was the well-kno’wn living piper, who was joyfully released from his awful and perilous situation. The poor man fell badly ill after this unpleasant excursion, and was relieved, during his malady, by his former benefactor, who, to perpetuafe the remembrance of so wonderful an escape, resolved, as soon as his patient had recovered, to employ a sculptor to execute him on stone—not omitting his faithful dog, keg of liquor, &c.
The famous Caius Gabriel Cibber was then in high’ repute, from the circumstance of his having executed the beautiful figures which originally were placed on the entrance gate of old Bethlem Hospital; and the statue in question of the Highland bagpiper remains an additional specimen of the merits of this great artist.
It was long after purchased by John the great duke of Argyll, and came from his collection, at his decease, into the possession of the present proprietor.
This is a fine example of late 17th-century garden sculpture; its weathered surface is evidence of its exposure to the elements. The subject may be related to genre works produced by the Netherlandish sculptor Pieter Xavery (active 1667-1674), and connections have also been suggested with the bronze statuettes by Giambologna (1529-1608). 1 The sculptor Caius Gabriel Cibber (1630-1700) was a native of Denmark, and also studied in the Netherlands and Rome, before settling in England in the 1650s. He was appointed Sculptor in Ordinary to William III, in 1693. Cibber introduced a fluent style of sculpture, as well as new figurative subjects into Britain, thanks to his training in Europe
This work was probably made for the Duke of Argyll, as it was housed at his house in Whitton for 100 years. It was then moved to 178 Tottenham Court Road occupied by the studio of a sculptor named Hinchliff. Later it was under the possession of Hinchliff’s son, with whom it remained until ca. 1835. At some point it was removed to Stowe House, Buckinghamshire. It was included in the Stowe sale of 1848, sold as lot 134 for £38 17s 0d to a Mr. J Browne. Re-purchased by Mr. Mark Philips. Then in the gardens at Snitterfield, Mr Philip’s seat at Warwickshire. Later in the possession of Sir George Trevelyan at Welcombe. Then included in the sale of garden ornaments held by Sotheby’s in 1929 and bought in for 115. It was then acquired by the museum by private treaty, via Alfred Spero and Kerin Ltd, London in 1930 for 150.
The Viennese myth of der liebe Augustin was fabricated by the prolific historical fantasist, Moritz Bermann, and published in Alt-Wien in Geschichte und Sage in 1865. It combines and locates in Vienna two items with no demonstrable link to one another or to the Austrian capital: firstly, the late 18th century popular song about a beloved and probably fictional wastrel:
Oh you darling Augustine,
Money’s gone, it’s all gone! 2
… and secondly, a much older story about a different person’s drunken escape from a plague pit, and it’s the story we’re interested in. A marketing genius, his creation speaks to the Viennese view of themselves as down-to-earth and darkly humorous (there may have been more truth in that before the empire tumbled in 1914), 3 and his invention still furnishes hope to modern tourists suffering from a surfeit of Habsburgs.
Bermann claims that he has exclusive access to a chronicle of the life of a Max Augustin, who is born in 1643 into a Viennese family of innkeepers. Shunning work, Max earns his living as an itinerant bagpiper in the city’s most disreputable taverns. One night in the plague year of 1679 he is staggering along singing a particularly gloomy version of the title song when he falls into a plague pit. The following morning, having sobered up, he plays his pipes to attract the attention of the corpse carriers, and goes on to die less sensationally in 1705.
Unfortunately for Bermann, the same story, featuring a nameless bagpiper, turns up in Paul de Sorbait’s 1679 Pest-Ordnung, which consists of the plague notes of a fellow Viennese physician, Johann Wilhelm Mannagetta, who died in 1666, 13 years before Max Agustin’s plague. 4 I can’t find the 1679 edition online, so here’s the 1681 reissue:
The same story is told of a bagpiper, who, having fallen asleep in the tavern, was taken for a plague-death, and thrown into the pits on top of other uncovered bodies, but he woke up, and reaching around him, supposed that these were those with whom he had been drinking, and hence to enliven them he pulled his pipes out of the bag and blew, causing no little fright to the corpse carrier who was arriving with another body.
Der gleichen Geschicht erzehlet man auch von einem Sackpfeiffer, welcher im Wirtshauß entschlaffen, für einen Pest-verstorbenen gehalten, und in die Gruben auff andere unbedeckte Cörper geworffen, da er aber erwachte, und umb sich griffen, vermeinte, daß es die jenige wären, mit welchen er getruncken, derowegen vermeinte sie zu ermuntern, zoge auß dem Sack seine Pfeiffe herfür und pfieffe, dardurch dann die mit einer andern Leich ankommende Todtenträger nicht wenig erschreckt hat.
Mannagetta mentions other interments of the undead in Italy (including a woman who gives birth to twins), this kind of thing is quite common in Italian literature (think of the Decameron), and the whole story may well be a southern import, or from Indian, like most things. However, Defoe in A Journal of the Plague Year (1722) is in no doubt that it took place in London, not Vienna, and in 1666, again before Bermann’s date:
It was under this John Hayward’s care, and within his bounds, that the story of the piper, with which people have made themselves so merry, happened, and he assured me that it was true. It is said that it was a blind piper; but, as John told me, the fellow was not blind, but an ignorant, weak, poor man, and usually walked his rounds about ten o’clock at night and went piping along from door to door, and the people usually took him in at public-houses where they knew him, and would give him drink and victuals, and sometimes farthings; and he in return would pipe and sing and talk simply, which diverted the people; and thus he lived. It was but a very bad time for this diversion while things were as I have told, yet the poor fellow went about as usual, but was almost starved; and when anybody asked how he did he would answer, the dead cart had not taken him yet, but that they had promised to call for him next week.
It happened one night that this poor fellow, whether somebody had given him too much drink or no—John Hayward said he had not drink in his house, but that they had given him a little more victuals than ordinary at a public-house in Coleman Street—and the poor fellow, having not usually had a bellyful for perhaps not a good while, was laid all along upon the top of a bulk or stall, and fast asleep, at a door in the street near London Wall, towards Cripplegate-, and that upon the same bulk or stall the people of some house, in the alley of which the house was a corner, hearing a bell which they always rang before the cart came, had laid a body really dead of the plague just by him, thinking, too, that this poor fellow had been a dead body, as the other was, and laid there by some of the neighbours.
Accordingly, when John Hayward with his bell and the cart came along, finding two dead bodies lie upon the stall, they took them up with the instrument they used and threw them into the cart, and, all this while the piper slept soundly.
From hence they passed along and took in other dead bodies, till, as honest John Hayward told me, they almost buried him alive in the cart; yet all this while he slept soundly. At length the cart came to the place where the bodies were to be thrown into the ground, which, as I do remember, was at Mount Mill; and as the cart usually stopped some time before they were ready to shoot out the melancholy load they had in it, as soon as the cart stopped the fellow awaked and struggled a little to get his head out from among the dead bodies, when, raising himself up in the cart, he called out, ‘Hey! where am I?’ This frighted the fellow that attended about the work; but after some pause John Hayward, recovering himself, said, ‘Lord, bless us! There’s somebody in the cart not quite dead!’ So another called to him and said, ‘Who are you?’ The fellow answered, ‘I am the poor piper. Where am I?’ ‘Where are you?’ says Hayward. ‘Why, you are in the dead-cart, and we are going to bury you.’ ‘But I an’t dead though, am I?’ says the piper, which made them laugh a little though, as John said, they were heartily frighted at first; so they helped the poor fellow down, and he went about his business.
I know the story goes he set up his pipes in the cart and frighted the bearers and others so that they ran away; but John Hayward did not tell the story so, nor say anything of his piping at all; but that he was a poor piper, and that he was carried away as above I am fully satisfied of the truth of.
And the only earlier published source I can find for the story is also British: Thomas Middleton & Thomas Dekker’s The Meeting of Gallants at an Ordinarie: Or, The Walkes in Powles (1604), which deals with the 1603 London plague outbreak. Its form is even simpler than Mannagetta/Sorbait: the drunkard dumped in the plague pit has neither name nor bagpipes:
[T]his that I discourse of now is a prettie merrie accident that happened about Shoreditch, although the intent was Sad and Tragicall, yet the euent was mirthfull and pleasant: The goodman (or rather as I may fitlier tearme him, the bad-man of a House) being sorely pesterd with the death of seruants, and to auoyde all suspition of the Pestilence from his house aboue all others, did very craftily and subtilly compound with the Maisters of the Pest-cart, to fetch away by night as they hast by, all that should chance to die in his house, hauing three or foure seruants downe at once, and told them that he knew one of them would be readie for them by that time the Cart came by, and to cleare his house of all suspition, the dead body should bee laide upon a stall, some fiue or sixe houses of: where, there they should entertaine him and take him in amongst his dead companions: To conclude, night drewe on-ward, and the seruant concluded his life, and according to their appointment was enstalde to be made Knight of the Pest-cart. But here comes in the excellent Jest, Gentlemen-Gallants of fiue and twentie, about the darke and pittifull season of the night: a shipwracke drunkard, (or one drunke at the signe of the Ship,) new cast from the shore of an Alehouse, and his braines sore beaten with the cruell tempests of Ale and Beere, fell Flounce vpon a lowe stall hard by the house, there being little difference in the Carcasse, for the other was dead, and he was deaddrunke, (the worse death of the twaine) there taking vp his drunking Lodging, and the Pest-cart comming by, they made no more adoo, but taking him for the dead Bodie, placed him amongst his companions, and away they hurred with him to the Pest-house: but there is an oulde Prouerbe, and now confirmed true, a Druncken man neuer takes harme: to the Approbation of which, for all his lying with infectious Bedfellowes, the next morning a little before he should be buried, he stretcht and yawnde as wholesomly, as the best Tinker in all Banburie, and returned to his olde Vomit againe, and was druncke in Shoreditch before Euening.
However, Johann Heinrich von Falckenstein, Civitatis Erffurtensis historia critica et diplomatica (1739) 5 claims to have seen documents showing that in 1517 a drunken beggar called fell into and escaped from a plague pit without the aid of bagpipes (dodgy translation?):
Around Michaelmas there arose in the city a great mortality from a plague outbreak. At the Canons Regular [i.e. the Augustinians], 60 bodies were put in a pit in one go. The hole was covered over at night with boards. There was at the time in Erfurt a beggar, a rogue called Schuch, who that evening wanders drunkenly through the churchyard and arrives at the board-covered pit, in which the dead bodies were laid in layers; and since the boards weren’t fixed properly, the drunken Schuch falls in. But because he was so drunk that he could no longer hear nor see, he remained lying among the dead as one of them. When he wakes up in the morning he imagines he is lying somewhere else and reached around him; but, perceiving that he found himself among the dead, he began to lament: and although the people in the neighbourhood heard him, no one dared to go to him, since they believed that it was one of the dead who had come back to life, or that the noise and wailing came from a ghost. But around nine o’clock when new corpses were brought to the pit to be buried, they found in it the rogue, the beggar Schuch.
Um Michaelis erhub sich in der Stadt ein grosses Sterben von der eingerissenen Pestilenz. Zum Reglern legete man auf einmahl in eine Grube 60. Cörper. Das Loch legete man des Nachts zu mit Bretern. Da war nun damahls in Erfurt ein Bettler, ein Grundschalck, Schuch genannt, derselbe gehet des Abends besoffen über den Kirchhof, und kommt zu der mit Bretern oben bedeckten Grube, worein die todten Cörper Schichten weise geleget wurden; indem nun die Breter nicht allzufest geleget waren, so fällt der besoffene Schuch hinein. Weil er aber so sehr bezecht war, daß er von feinen Sinnen nicht wußte, also blieb er auch unter denen Todten, gleich als ein Todter mitliegen. Wie er des Morgens erwachet, vermeint er, er liege an einem anderen Orte, grieff um sich; wie er aber wahrnahm, daß er sich unter denen Todten befande, fing er an zu lamentiren: Und ob es schon die Leute in der Nachbahrschafft höreten, so getrauete sich doch niemand hinzu zugehen, weilen fie vermeinten, es wäre einer von denen Todten entweder wieder lebendig geworden, oder das Getöß und Lamentiren komme von einem Gespenste her. Als man aber gegen neun Uhr wiederum Verstorbene zur Grube brachte, um dieselbe dahinein zu begraben, so fand man den Grundschalck, den Bettler Schuch darinnen.
- Is there any prior information linking Cibber’s statue with the plague, or is the story published in The flowers of literature merely a charming falsehood like Bermann’s?
- Wouldn’t a copy of the statue, complete with a plaque with the story, true or false, work rather well on the pedestrianised junction of Tottenham Court Road with Howland Street, opposite 178? You could advertise the V&A & add a silver lining to the dreadful shadow cast by the Bloomsbury Group over the touristic prospects of the area. Calling Linus Rees and Fitzrovia News… This vulgar Orpheus would of course be happy to contribute songs of death and disaster at the unveiling.
- How many small mammals would we have to add to the story before it overtook the Pied Piper of Hamelin?
- Does the story tie up with the not entirely pointless tradition of (annoying) beggars, spoons virtuosi and amped guitarists being killed or humiliated as scapegoats? For example, this note in Charpentier (trans.), Oeuvres complètes de Virgile (1831):
When the plague raged in Marseille, a miserable person, a beggar was chosen, who, after having been fed and fattened at the expense of the public purse, was sacrificed.
Lorsque la peste régnait à Marseille, on choisissait un misérable, un mendiant, qui, après, avoir été nourri et engraissé aux frais du trésor public, était sacrifié.
Or Philostratus, Life of Apollonius:
when the plague began to rage in Ephesus, and no remedy sufficed to check it, they sent a deputation to Apollonius, asking him to become physician of their infirmity; and he thought that he ought not to postpone his journey, but said: “Let us go.”
And forthwith he was in Ephesus, performing the same feat, I believe, as Pythagoras, who was in Thurii and Metapontum at one and the same moment. He therefore called together the Ephesians, and said: “Take courage, for I will today put a stop to the course of the disease.”
And with these words he led the population entire to the the theater, where the image of the Averting god has been set up. And there he saw what seemed an old mendicant artfully blinking his eyes as if blind, as he carried a wallet and a crust of bread in it; and he was clad in rags and was very squalid of countenance. Apollonius therefore ranged the Ephesians around him and said: “Pick up as many stones as you can and hurl them at this enemy of the gods.”
Now the Ephesians wondered what he meant, and were shocked at the idea of murdering a stranger so manifestly miserable; for he was begging and praying them to take mercy upon him. Nevertheless Apollonius insisted and egged on the Ephesians to launch themselves on him and not let him go. And as soon as some of them began to take shots and hit him with their stones, the beggar who had seemed to blink and be blind, gave them all a sudden glance and his eyes were full of fire. Then the Ephesians recognized that he was a demon, and they stoned him so thoroughly that their stones were heaped into a great cairn around him.
After a little pause Apollonius bade them remove the stones and acquaint themselves with the wild animal they had slain. When therefore they had exposed the object which they thought they had thrown their missiles at, they found that he had disappeared and instead of him there was a hound who resembled in form and look a Molossian dog, but was in size the equal of the largest lion; there he lay before their eyes, pounded to a pulp by their stones and vomiting foam as mad dogs do. Accordingly the statue of the Averting god, Heracles, has been set up over the spot where the ghost was slain.
- I thought of the 16th century Pfeifferbrunnen (piper fountain) statue in Berne, which has a goose instead of a dog. ↩
James J. Fuld, The Book of World-famous Music: Classical, Popular, and Folk (2000) is pretty good on the tune, though I think his first date is 10 years early. A couple of early dates:
- 1799 the song
- 1800 variations on the well known song by some French bloke
- 1801 variations on Ey du lieber Augustin
See also Polly put the kettle on, which sounds to me like a parody of the German song, and other stuff like Did you ever see a lassie and Daar wordt aan de deur geklopt, and I’ve heard of a Czech version. ↩
- Freud’s story in Ernest Jones, Sigmund Freud. Life and Work, Vol. 2 (1955) about the young Mahler rushing out onto the street to escape warring parents and being confronted with an organ-grinder playing “Ach, du lieber Augustin” is probably less about who he was than about who he wanted to be – a transfigurer of the commonplace. ↩
- Via Gertraud Schaller-Pressler in Wien, Musikgeschichte: Volksmusik und Wienerlied (2006). ↩
- Via Johannes Nohl, Der schwarze Tod – Eine Chronik der Pest 1348 bis 1720 (1st ed. 1924). Nohl also mentions one Kumpan in 1549 Danzig/Gdansk, who I haven’t managed to trace. ↩
[:en]Any proto-ecologists don’t seem to have cared very much.[:]
[:en]A reminder from Simon Winchester in Outposts: Journeys to the Surviving Relics of the British Empire (1984):
The little gang of Rock apes—Macacus inuus—are the only monkeys to be found in Europe. Theories about their having swum across from Africa, or having arrived drenched, clinging to Moroccan logs, have long been discounted; zoologists believe these are the relict clan of a great tribe of Macaques which once frolicked in Germany and France, and came as far north as Aylesbury. The last Ice Age forced them steadily southwards: Gibraltar was their final peninsular refuge, the closest they ever would come to their native home. Had the blizzards and hailstorms swept through Spain they might have been driven into the Straits, and drowned.
A birdwatcher on the Lea Navigation this morning told me that there may be some more serious culling of London’s 15,000-odd ring-necked parakeets. This seems not to be because they are regarded as alien, but simply because, like Barcelona’s monk parakeets before them, they have begun to affect crop yields in the urban periphery.
Given perceptions of Ye Olden Dayes, I expected to find more straightforwardly xenophobic concerns about damn foreign monkeys in the pre-C20th writing in various languages I’ve been trawling for organ-grinding references. But nothing yet, apart from C19th health officials worrying about transmission of diseases such as tuberculosis across the species barrier, and cartoonists suggesting that the species barrier between Italians and monkeys was based on Schengen.
There certainly weren’t very many of them to worry about, but I wonder whether a more positive view of globalisation also played a role.
Anyway: not only did we evolve from monkeys, but they may have been gambolling on the Lea when Neanderthals drank at the Anchor and Hope (“What can I say?” is not the worst reason to keep going).
In cylindrical terms the monkey was preceded by the marmot, which also seems to have been viewed more as a charming curiosity than as a threat to our precious ecosystem. I’m rather fond of Goethe’s 1778 parody of a Savoyard at an annual fair in his little-known Das Jahrmarktsfest zu Plundersweilern:
It’s many a land I’ve travelled through,
Avecque la marmotte,
And always I found some thing to chew,
Avecque la marmotte,
Avecque si, avecque la,
Avecque la marmotte.
I’d have liked to do something with the verse, but some lightweight called Ludwig von Beethoven stamped his branding iron on the rodent’s rump first, and his op. 52 no. 7 in modern times tends unfortunately to be served up in an atmosphere of quasi-religious gloom to evoke infant migrants:
… or the Plain People of Wherever:
I was unable to find an animated version featuring singing marmots, so here’s Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau:
The organ-grinding guild’s List of Prohibited Books includes Simon Winchester’s because he refers to the Gibraltar monkeys as apes, and we grinders know that’s wrong. But his nostalgia for times when posh British boys like himself ruled the world simply extends to English vocabulary as it was before the introduction of the word “monkey” in the 16th century:
I wol no lyf but ese and pees,
And winnin golde to spende also,
For when the grete bagge is ago,
It comith full right with my japes.
Make I not wel tomble mine apes?
(Chaucer’s late 14th century Romaunt of the Rose in the 1782 edition)
And so say all of us.[:]
- Elderly French for avec, and still heard in some Occitan dialects. ↩