On the French penchant for inventing things already in existence elsewhere

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:

  1. the date when his show started at Versailles,
  2. the date when it was patronised by the royal family there, and
  3. 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.[11] 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:

  1. Feu Séraphin: histoire de ce spectacle depuis son origine jusqu’à sa disparition, 1776-1870 (1875), which gives:
    1. 1772 for the show’s opening in Versailles – no evidence;
    2. April 1781 for granting of the title Spectacle des Enfants de France – no evidence, the subsequent playbill being apparently undated;
    3. 1784 for transfer to the Duke of Orléans’ speculative development in the gardens of the Palais-Royal – no evidence.
  2. 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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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?
  3. 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:

  1. Huygens’ use, perhaps in the 1650s, of a projector described by Kircher with a local light source and for entertainment.
  2. Such a device was shown and commercialised for the elite in Western Europe by Walgensten in the 1660s.
  3. Leibniz’s thoughts on marionette shadow puppetry in the 1670s.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.”[13] 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:

  1. He was originally a painter, but no relationship to the contemporary Milanese painter and set designer Alessandro Sanquirico has been demonstrated.
  2. In autumn 1776 he showed Chinese shadows in Petersburg to acclaim.
  3. 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.
  4. Some of this appears to have been automated, but my Czech fails me. 9
  5. 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.”
  6. 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). [17] 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. [18] 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))

More, Adam Walker’s derivative Eidouranion, and an image of the Eidophusikon:

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.

Stuff

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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:

  5. Sacre bleu! He didn’t even invent it, and watch him trying to use the state to kill off the competition!
  6. The preceding pygmy spectacle also sounds good. More Gallic dwarves some other time.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. Jouer des proverbes: a society game where the party has to guess the proverb played out by one of their number.
  11. Grimm’s satire on French operatic decadence, Le petit prophète de Boehmischbroda (1753), is also justly famous, and contains a chapter on marionettes.

Sister Mary and the Bird

Translations from Welsh and Yiddish revealing ornithomancy amongst the 19th century north Welsh and Jewish Lithuanians.

I first heard the story of St. Kenneth and the gulls while imbibing algal slime on Gower last week:

One day about A. D. 550 the blackheaded gulls, flying as usual along the coast of Wales, and scanning the sea sharply for food or any- thing else interesting to a gull, found floating in a coracle — a round, wicker work canoe — a human baby a day or two old, contentedly asleep on a pallet made of a folded purple cloth. Several gulls seized the corners of this cloth and so carried the child to the ledge of the Welsh cliff where they nested, plucked feathers from their breasts to make a soft bed, laid the baby on it, then hastened to fly inland and bring a doe to provide it with milk, for which an angel offered a brazen bell as a cup. There the blessed waif lived for several months; but one day, in the absence of all the gulls, a shepherd discovered the infant and took him down to his hut and his kind wife. The gulls, returning from the sea, heard of this act from the doe. They at once rushed to the shepherd’s cottage, again lifted the babe by the corners of its purple blanket, and bore him back to the ledge of their sea-fronting crag. There he stayed until he had grown to manhood — a man full of laughter and singing and kind words; and the Welsh peasants of the Gower Peninsula revered him and called him Saint Kenneth. 1

Tradition has it that the only Welsh understood by living members of my family is “Here is the news in Welsh,” but here’s a bash at the last of several amusing anecdotes told by David Evans of Carmarthen about a mid-19th century north Welsh patrilineal forebear:

Simon Jones used to get awfully angry with superstitious folk who believed in ghosts, corpse candles and birds etc., but once something happened that shook his faith too. His sister Mary was languishing with tuberculosis and he was called home from Sheffield. On reaching Bala it was already late and he had to walk home to Llanuwchlyn through the dense trees on the Llanycil side of the lake. He was into the trees when suddenly, with uncanny accuracy, a big bird flew past and smote the hat from his head. As if this wasn’t unnerving enough, the bird came past again, wailing terribly, and struck off his hat once more. Now he knew this to be a portent of the certain death of his sister. He crept in terror to Lon, where he found his parents praying, and Ap Vychan watching over Mary. He could not refrain from telling Robert Thomas what he had seen and heard on the road, but to avoid hurting his sister Mary he told his tale in English. Mary understood the word “bird”, and she read in the face of her brother an impression of terror in his telling, so she asked Robert Thomas, after Simon Jones had gone out, “What was Simon, my brother, saying to you, Robert, about a ‘bird’?” He judged it better simply to reveal the story to her, but she, like the common people, who thrust disagreeable things, and death in particular, far from them, said, “Oh, ‘right’ sure I am that we’ll hear in the next few days of the death of our sister-in-law in Sheffield.” That woman was indeed quite poorly at the time, but Mary got the first call after all. 2

It is often the case in many parts of the world that birds singing in the dead of night are more explicit in their forecasts than Paul McCartney’s blackbird. From a Hebrew verse by Nathan Zach:

I saw a white bird up in the black night
And knew that time would soon put out the light
Of my eyes in the black night. 3

You will know about the serinette and otherwise named mechanical musical instruments which were used to teach melodies to finches. But you may not be aware of the small birds which, working from on top of larger organs, created an extra revenue stream by selecting fortune cards, which were sometimes accompanied by little prizes in unregulated lotteries. Uriah Katzenelenbogen 4 on Russian imperial Lithuania at the beginning of the 20th century:

Birzh was a center of Jewish organ-grinders, in Birzh referred to as loyerleit, certainly originating from the German word Leierkastnman [barrel organ man]. However, in Birzh the word leierman was not connected to the German word leiern [to crank] (play on a barrel organ), but with loyern [to lie in wait for]–to ransack, to wander.

Near Chanukah, scores and scores of Jews with their organs and with small animals and birds–squirrels, white mice and parrots that would draw slips of paper with fortunes from a box–would set out from Birzh through the villages and cities. Rich organ-grinders even had monkeys, a small bear. They would lay aside their barrel organs, animals and little birds and be middle class like everyone else. They would come home at the time of the Days of Awe when, incidentally, the substantial mud started and it was not easy to wander. On simkhas torah, they would carry the old rabbi to the synagogue and celebrate with the Torah.

The organ-grinders’ wives showed off their large earrings and golden bracelets and colorful wide clothing. I remember these women–with open full faces, but with their sad eyes. Their wandering husbands left them in a more permanent loneliness than the wives whose husbands were in America or Africa. The “American women” and the “African women” hoped that they would soon join their husbands. I think that because of their association with monkeys and exotic birds, jaunty young organ-grinders would leave for [South] Africa and Australia in an easier frame of mind than the other young Birzher men. 5

I have found piglets and parrots performing this work for organ-grinders, but as yet no such anecdote with Simon Jones’ personal charm. Suggestions?

Update: I remember that Andreas Pum, the WWI veteran turned organ-grinder in Joseph Roth’s Die Rebellion, gets a parrot called Ignatz to help him in his last job as toilet attendant. It is precisely what he would have liked previously for his barrel organ—except that it doesn’t tell fortunes. He also has a moving relationship with small birds while imprisoned.

Stuff

  1. Ernest Ingersoll, Birds in legend, fable and folklore (1923). I also saw my first pair of choughs, or King Arthur and friend pace Ingersoll.
  2. She died, presumably of tuberculosis, in 1837. Simon Jones, perhaps building on the Sheffield connection (cutlery!), later had a shop in Bala, but unfortunately George Borrow only had eyes for the Anglicans when in 1854 (Wild Wales) he stayed at the White Lion at Bala and went to church in Llanuwchllyn.

    Comparison of source and target will reveal that I have adopted common practice among (literary) translators of lonely languages and omitted a phrase that was beyond me—”elai o’i bwyll ar darawiad wrth wrando straeon gwrachïaidd felly, a dywedai, ‘O! yr heu gacen bwci baw.'” I also wonder whether the “religious fellowship” in “Ymlusgodd i’r Lon, a braw arno, a chafodd fod ei rieni yn y gyfeillach grefyddol, ac Ap Vychan yn gwarchod gyda Mary” isn’t more than a way of saying that the parents are praying. And then there are the unknown unknowns. Any assistance gratefully received.

  3. Translation by A.Z. Foreman.
  4. “Cat’s elbows”: perhaps the only way of explaining, in the light of the subsequent enthusiastic collaboration of Lithuanian nationalists with the Nazis, how a Jew could have ever identified with their cause to the extent Uriah did.
  5. JewishGen, in Gloria Berkenstat Freund’s translation.

Cuckoos

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:

Paternal

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.

Paternal

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.

I know where your house lives, but sometimes the front door’s a struggle

Featuring Abel and Marguerite Chevalley and their Concise Oxford French Dictionary.

From Abel and Marguerite Chevalley’s intro to the 1934 Concise Oxford French Dictionary:

It is not sufficient to be a Frenchman, even highly educated, if you want to succeed as a French-English lexicographer. Nor can an Englishman, even with first-class honours in French, be guaranteed to find the best English equivalents for French words or idioms. Every living language gets stratified as it grows. Very few people are at home in its different strata. Mrs. Malaprop’s language was probably free of malapropisms when she spoke to her cook, and the most purist précieuse would perpetrate malapropisms of another sort if she had to deal with the butcher and the grocer. Languages are like houses: they must be lived in—from attic to basement—before they can be called ours. The number of people who have become familiar, in this intimate manner, not only with one but with several houses is, of course, limited.

Culture and knowledge are not sufficient. A taste for words as words; an instinct of divination leading in abstracto to the ‘mot juste’, and an insight into the risks and difficulties of others, less gifted; the sporting spirit that sustains, year in year out, a lifelong word-hunt; an acute sense of the correspondences and discrepancies between words of apparently the same sort and sound in two languages that are now frères ennemis and then “heavenly twins’, these are also not enough. A great thing, perhaps the greatest, is to have lived both French and English, meeting on their own ground all conditions of men, and transacting with them all kinds of business; to have travelled, under the sting of necessity, up and down the social order, always in a spirit of comprehensive sympathy but with that touch of amusement that goes to the making of humour. You must have run a hundred times, half angry, half smiling, from loft to cellar before you can flatter yourself that you know every turning, nook, and corner in your own house; and even then you knock your shins against unsuspected obstacles. What if the house were a double affair, more than half built in the air, of metaphors, shadows and shades, and visions, ever changing, ever moving, without perhaps one single exact counterpart in the two enchanted fabrics? I am not sure that the King’s English does in this sense belong to the King rather than to the bricklayer, and the French of France to the Académie rather than to the nearest pub. But I am sure that the lexicographer who has frequented both is also the best prepared for the task. These conditions must be sadly missing in the world of dictionaries.

I’ve been on holiday too long, but that’s still how I feel about borderline Dutch and Low German, and older houses in places like Hamburg and Strasbourg flash me back to ramshackle dwellings in the diseased swamp and blighted heath that separates the bishops of Utrecht and Münster. With other languages the feeling varies from residence through squatting to Airbnb (sorry, I broke the toilet). The Great House of Russian, on the other hand, is often as strange to me as the 60s West End of London to the anthropomartians above. How different the world might have been had Peter the Great spent some of his tobacco revenues on a translation of Erasmus’ proverbs.

The Chevalleys are interesting. Marguerite translated “from the American, English [sic] and Norwegian into French”, and it sounds as if her lexicography echoed the popular Protestant theology of her father, Auguste Sabatier. Abel has a German, but not a French, Wikipedia page because he represented the French state in the exclavation of East Prussia after the Treaty of Versailles. He wrote that “the English novel owes its existence and power to the authors of the 18th century and its prestige to Walter Scott”, and authored a study of Queen Victoria and a Ripper-type novel loosely based on the Beast of Gévaudan. Son Claude was a better mathematician than diplomat, applying from within the Great Satan for a job at the Sorbonne while simultaneously being rude about the artist then known as French science.

Where did Petersburg’s organ-grinders go in winter?

I fear only some of them migrated with the swallows. Featuring Boris Sadovskoy, Yuri Norstein, Aleksey Batalov, Rolan Bykov and Gogol.

Two films Friday night: Tralala Land, a preppy ramble contra elevator music, set to elevator music (Slate/Observer/Vice); then Aleksey Batalov and Rolan Bykov’s extraordinary 1959 version of “The Greatcoat” (in which story Gogol showed Russians how to write) – similar percentage of jazz, but with proper dancing (staggering), a professional score, drinking, smoking, crime, heartfelt singing… No organ grinders, though:


English: click the subtitle icon and select from the gear icon.

Grigorovich touches on the fate of the Petersburg organ-grinders during winter, which was marginally better than that of the livestock left to freeze to death in Haymarket Square in order to save on their pre-sale bed & breakfast. The following anecdote hints at what must have been a dreadful experience (translation corrections welcome). It’s from the the recollections of Boris Sadovskoy, one of the most curious literary figures in the run-up to the October Revolution, which is saying quite something, and posh but not preppy:

Many organ-grinders roamed Lower [Petersburg], 1 playing Italian arias and the inevitable Kamarinskaya. 2 During the winter of 1897, a couple of organ-grinders strayed into the shared courtyard. One turned the handle of the box while the other beat the tambourine dashingly and whistled like a nightingale. The latter was a cheerful, tough lad in a fashionable, fur jacket. In spring they played again, haggard, grim, in rags. The boy somehow whistled Kamarinskaya and stretched out to my window a ragged cap with a pitiful, pleading smile. He could barely stand from weakness. They visited the courtyard along with a classic Petrushka. From behind the screen, to the sounds of the barrel organ, jumped in turn his bride, the soldier, the apothecary, and the devil.

По Нижнему бродило много шарманщиков. Игрались итальянские арии и неизбежный камаринский. Зимой 1897 г. два шарманщика зашли на удельный двор. Один вертел ручку ящика, другой лихо бил в бубен и свистал как соловей. Это был веселый крепкий парень в щегольском полушубке. Весной они играли опять, испитые, угрюмые, в лохмотьях. Парень кое-как просвистал камаринского, протянул к моему окну рваный картуз с жалкой умоляющей улыбкой. Он еле стоял от слабости. Заходил к нам на двор и классический Петрушка. Из-за ширм, под звуки шарманки, выскакивали поочередно невеста, солдат, аптекарь и черт.

“The Overcoat” the world has been awaiting for the last 40 years is Yuri Norstein’s:

I’m confident there won’t be any barrel organs in that either. But, as you know, nostalgia ain’t what it used to be.

Stuff

  1. Nieder-/Ober-? Can’t find anyone else who classifies Petersburg geography this way. Class – lowlife? Then why the capitalisation?
  2. Early and quickly ubiquitous nationalist ditty-dance by Glinka – a kind of Russian Birdie Song. The least dull version features Donald Byrne and Bobby Fischer:

A sensational 1810 Parisian fire scene on top of an 1840s Russian barrel organ

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.

Second up was a Thomas G. Marullo‘s translation – hitherto unknown to me – of Grigorovich’s piece and the rest of the 1844 Nekrasov anthology, Petersburg: The Physiology of a City:

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.)

His explanation:

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!

Yiddish and the Italian Welsh

Daffy-down-dilly has been and fled / Her yellow-green gown all stained in red. Featuring Google Translate’s transliteration service for unfamiliar scripts.

Here’s the Yiddish original of an Abridger’s Confession quoted (and translated) by A.Z. Foreman:

דש דוזיג בוך אין וועלשן שפרוך
דש שרייבט גאר לאנג אין אלן עקן
איך וויל אים ניט מין שרייבן נוך
וויל אויביריגי ווארט לוש איך נוך שטעקן
זוישט וואורד מיר מיין בויכֿלן צו הוך
אונ׳ דיא צייט וואורד מיך דרצו ניט קלעקן
דרום ווער עז הוט גילייט בֿור אך אין וועלשן
מאיין ניט דש איך עש דעהרום וויל ועלשן

I was interested in the literal original and the translation process, but I can’t read Hebrew. here‘s the Google Translation:

Flap doozy book in which entitlement
Flap writing extremely long in aln ends
I wish him no kind writing nukh
Wants aoybirigi word Lush I nukh staff
Cleaner wards me my boykhln to hukh
And Dia times wards me moreover not suffice
South who EZ hat gileyt majority but in which
My not flap I Esche dehrum wants uelshn

A case of madness beating method. But anyone who knows a bit of German should be able to understand Google Translate’s transliteration:

dsh duzig bukh in velshn shfrukh
dsh shreybt gar lang in aln ekn
ikh vil im nit min shreybn nukh
vil aoybirigi vart lush ikh nukh shtekn
zoysht vaurd mir meyn boykhln tsu hukh
aun’ dya tseyt vaurd mikh drtsu nit klekn
drum ver ez hut gileyt vur akh in velshn
meyn nit dsh ikh esh dehrum vil uelshn

One curiosity: Foreman translates velshn/uelshen as “Italian” in line with historical linguistic theory:

*Walhaz … is a reconstructed Proto-Germanic word, meaning “foreigner”, “stranger”, “Roman”, “Romance-speaker”, or “Celtic-speaker”. The term was used by the ancient Germanic peoples to describe inhabitants of the former Western Roman Empire, who were largely romanised and spoke Latin or Celtic languages. The adjectival form is attested in Old Norse valskr, meaning “French”, Old High German walhiskbarrick, meaning “Romance”, Modern German welsch, used in Switzerland and South Tyrol for Romance-speakers, Dutch Waals “Walloon”, Old English welisċ, wælisċ, wilisċ, meaning “Romano-British”, and Modern English Welsh.

However, it is common knowledge here in Bala, Gwynedd, Wales that all other incomprehensible tongues in fact spring from Welsh, in which tongue proto-Calvinistic Methodist dogma was being preached long before the Shemites shtarted shquabbling, and whose speakers have dominated European government for centuries by the subtle use of leeks. A fearsome language and a fearful people, of whose death-dealing daffy-down-dilly Robert Herrick (1591-1674) wrote:

When a daffodil I see,
Hanging down his head towards me,
Guess I may what I must be:
First, I shall decline my head;
Secondly, I shall be dead;
Lastly, safely burièd.

The Welsh appear in a notorious poem by Ernst Arndt (1769-1860), which on a particularly slow day Mr Foreman might translate as follows:

That is the German fatherland,
Where foreign junk is fiercely banned,
Where every Frenchman is condemned,
Where every German is your friend.
So shall it be! so shall it be!
So shall be all of Germany!

[
Das ist des Deutschen Vaterland,
Wo Zorn vertilgt den welschen Tand,
Wo jeder Franzmann heißet Feind,
Wo jeder Deutsche heißet Freund.
Das soll es sein! das soll es sein!
Das ganze Deutschland soll es sein!
]

But this, pace Bala, is actually about the Welsh, not foreigners in general. A precocious talent, Arndt is recalling his attendance, at the age of 18 months, at Cardiff City’s best ever showing in European competition: the second leg of its 3-4 aggregate loss against Hamburger SV in the semi-finals of the 1768 Cup Winners’ Cup:

Why not simply learn Hebrew script? Because I have discovered from overheard conversations in Yiddish that the Stamford Hill Haredim are less interested in world domination than in what’s for tea, so the chance of Hebrew script becoming more widely used and useful seems unacceptably small.

Did the house that Jack built come from Spain?

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!

Stuff

  1. The printer was in Bearbinder Lane – check this splendid map of early modern London.
  2. 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.

  3. Cervantes 1615/Shelton 1620
  4. 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
  5. 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.

  6. 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.

Is the Cibber piper in the V&A a notorious plague-pit drunkard?

Featuring O du lieber Augustin, the Thomases Dekker and Middleton, Daniel Defoe and various disreputable beggars and foreigners.

Statue + story

A serendipity in The flowers of literature (1824) links the sculpture portrayed above to a story:

THE BAGPIPER.

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.

The statue

The V&A says:

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.

Nothing about plagues or drunks there (though the keg is clearly visible), and, on the other hand, there is no mention of statues in most versions of…

The story

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.

A motif summary:

Questions

  1. 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?
  2. 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.
  3. How many small mammals would we have to add to the story before it overtook the Pied Piper of Hamelin?
  4. 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.

Stuff

  1. I thought of the 16th century Pfeifferbrunnen (piper fountain) statue in Berne, which has a goose instead of a dog.



  2. 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:

    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.

  3. 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.
  4. Via Gertraud Schaller-Pressler in Wien, Musikgeschichte: Volksmusik und Wienerlied (2006).
  5. 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.

Christmas carousels

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.

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.

Gregory Motton:

On earth we can’t abide,
We all must die
As everybody knows. 3

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:

  1. 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.

  2. 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:

    … but actually reminded me more of vlöggelen/vlöggeln at Easter at Ootmarsum in the (Roman Catholic) eastern Netherlands:

  3. 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.

  4. “Deceptacon” by Le Tigre (ta, SG), which, like the Fellini / Rota partnership, surely owes a lot to the Kijé generation:

  5. 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.

Stuff to avoid: Google’s winter solstice doodle, which is a perpetual motion con (no candle or crank needed) and a blasphemy – their logo replaces the Christmas pyramid’s seraphim. 5

Stuff

  1. Anyone got a score?
  2. Tined? Wassat?
  3. 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.
  4. Though she was enjoying her beef stew.
  5. 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