+ ~ -
Please report pronunciation problems here. Select and sample other voices. Options Pause Play
Report an Error

time, even we respectable English used
to be gay and lively: but enjoyment has
become vulgar in both countries.

It might perhaps be objected that there
was but little intellect displayed in social
amusements, and that progress would
done its work but ill, were we to introduce
on our Christmas lives and our New
Years' Eves sports such as were in vogue once
upon a time. For instance, there was once a
very popular game, which consisted in one
of the company being seated on a stick
which was placed over a pail of water, and
was by no means steady: the candidate for
honour held in his hand a taper which it was
his object and his glory to light at another
fixed at the extremity of the said stick, and
which he could only reach by a delicate and
well-balanced shuttle towards the object: it
frequently happened that the other end would
suddenly be uplifted, the stick roll off, the
actor be thrown, the light extinguished, and
admired confusion ensue, accompanied by the
crowing of lungs like Chanticleer. This lively
amusement, it must be confessed, would not
suit the velvet carpets of Belgravia or
elsewhere; but in the days when it most
obtained, the floor was probably strewn with
sand, or at best with rushes. If the game of
the Pail was lively, what was that of the
Bucket? This was played thus by our
long-haired ancestors: a youth who nourished
locks of sufficient length, or who wore a wig
of the proper dimensions, placed himself on a
board over the bucket of water prepared. At
a given signal he ducked backwards, without
losing his balance, and managed to dip the
tips of his long locks into the pure element,
and instantly recover himself. As he seldom
accomplished this feat without a variety of
failures, the comic incidents attending his
struggles delighted the audience. Cherry-bob
and orange-bob were both considered as
charming games, and one which held its own
up to a late period was thus performed. A
gentleman put the end of a coil of string into
his mouth, gallantly presenting the other end
to a selected young lady: the duty of both was
to absorb the string with their lips, till by
degrees they approached each other, as if
attracted by a magnetic influence, and a
kiss, if one could be accomplished in spite of
the mutual impediment, concluded the
affair. Manners were certainly somewhat
rough in those days; nor could we now be
guilty of playing at king, queen, and guest,
when the latter personagean innocent
chosen to be the victimreceived by their
majesties on their two thrones, was
invited to seat himself between them, when the
dignitaries, rising to do him greater honour, I
removed the two ends of the treacherous
covering of his hollow seat, and the guest fell
to the ground amidst shouts of laughter.

People in those good old times would
submit to infinite inconvenience to enjoy a play.
The pit at that period deserved its name, for
it was literally a hollow place below the stage,
which towered before it, and from whence the
standing audience was obliged to crane the
neck and point the toe to get a glimpse of
the humours of the scene. Instead of private
boxes and all their luxuries, little square
windows only permitted a sidelong view to
numerous heads thrust anxiously forward.
Then incited pit was pit, and box was box; at
least there was no deception on the subject.

How simple our theatres were in those
primitive times, we may know by the prints
of Hogarth and others, who depict the,
orchestra of two fiddles, one on each side of
the stage, and the candle-snuffer showed his
art as the tallow candles of the chandelier
descended to receive the renovation of his
instrument. This functionary must necessarily
have been a man of nerve, for he
became a favourite or an object of derision
to the impatient audience, according as he
performed his office deftly or otherwise, in
the long intervals between the acts. But it
was not merely in this capacity that the
candle-snuffer figured: as the number of
performers was limited, he was frequently
required to fill up some insignificant, but
necessary character, such as a messenger or
confidant; in fact, any personage more acted
on than acting; and in proportion to his
popularity, he was greeted on his entrance,
causing not a little hilarity by the versatility
of his accomplishments. Authors were often
offended at the recognition of this person
disturbing the gravity of their drama, and
Corneille, who objected much to it, declares
in one of his prefaces that he has no desire to
write parts for candle-snuffers. After his
time, the theatre presented very different
subjects for the amusement of the
well-packed house; but even when mysteries and
moralities had gone out, very extraordinary
scenes were represented, almost incredible in
their simplicity.

One of the most remarkable pastimes ever
attempted on the stage was the gay-gravity
offered by Catherine de' Medici to her guests
at the wedding festivities of her daughter
with Henry of Navarre. It was no other
than a rehearsal of the horrors intended to be
acted on the night of the massacre of
St. Bartholomew, which came off in due time. The
shuddering Court were sent home to their
beds, wondering what could have induced the
Queen to imagine such a scene of bloodshed;
and it was only a day or two afterwards
that those who survived the reality
understood the admirable joke. At a still
later date, however, it was thought lively
to amuse a bride with something similar in
character, for it is related that in sixteen
hundred and forty-five, at the marriage of Marie
de Gonzaga, a play was presented at Amsterdam
in this style:

First came a Roman triumph, succeeded by
Pandemonium and the Furies; then a grand
fĂȘte; after which a murder of two gentlemen,