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business, and which now change hands everyweek,
but never change their character of being divided
and subdivided on the ground floor into mouldy
dens of shops where an orange and half a dozen
nuts, or a pomatum-pot, one cake of fancy soap,
and a cigar-box, are offered for sale and never
sold, were most ruefully contemplated that evening,
by the statue of Shakespeare, with the
rain-drops coursing one another down its innocent
nose. Those inscrutable pigeon-hole offices,
with nothing in them (not so much as an
inkstand) but a model of a theatre before the
curtain, where, in the Italian Opera season, tickets
at reduced prices are kept on sale by nomadic
gentlemen in smeary hats too tall for them, whom
one occasionally seems to have seen on race-
courses, not wholly unconnected with strips of
cloth of various colours and a rolling ball
those Bedouin establishments, deserted by the
tribe, and tenantless except when sheltering in
one corner an irregular row of ginger-beer-
bottles which would have made one shudder on
such a night, but for its being plain that they
had nothing in them, shrunk from the shrill cries
of the newsboys down at their Exchange in the
kennel of Catherine-street, like guilty things
upon a fearful summons. At the pipe-shop in
Great Russell-street, the Death's-head pipes
were like a theatrical memento mori, admonishing
beholders of the decline of the playhouse as
an Institution. I walked up Bow-street,
disposed to be angry with the shops there, that
were letting out theatrical secrets by exhibiting
to work-a-day humanity, the stuff of which
diadems and robes of kings are made. I noticed
that some shops which had once been in the
dramatic line, and had straggled out of it, were
not getting on prosperouslylike some actors I
have known, who took to business and failed
to make it answer. In a word, those streets
looked so dull, and, considered as theatrical
streets, so broken and bankrupt, that the FOUND
DEAD on the black board at the police station
might have announced the decease of the Drama,
and the pools of water outside the fire-engine
maker's at the corner of Long-acre might have
been occasioned by his having brought out the
whole of his stock to play upon its last smouldering

And yet, on such a night in so degenerate a
time, the object of my journey was theatrical.
And yet within half an hour I was in an
immense theatre, capable of holding nearly five
thousand people.

What Theatre? Her Majesty's? Far better.
Royal Italian Opera? Far better. Infinitely
superior to the latter for hearing in; infinitely
superior to both, for seeing in. To every part
of this Theatre spacious fireproof ways of
ingress and egress. For every part of it,
convenient places of refreshment and retiring rooms.
Everything to eat and drink carefully supervised
as to quality, and sold at an appointed price;
respectable female attendants ready for the
commonest women in the audience; a general air of
consideration, decorum, and supervision, most
commendable; an unquestionably humanising
influence in all the social arrangements of the

Surely a dear Theatre, then? Because there
were in London (not very long ago) Theatres
with entrance-prices up to half a guinea a head,
whose arrangements were not half so civilised.
Surely, therefore, a dear Theatre? Not very
dear. A gallery at threepence, another gallery
at fourpence, a pit at sixpence, boxes and pit-
stalls at a shilling, and six private boxes at

My uncommercial curiosity induced me to go
into every nook of this great place, and among
every class of the audience assembled in it
amounting that evening, as I calculated, to about
two thousand and odd hundreds. Magnificently
lighted by a firmament of sparkling chandeliers,
the building was ventilated to perfection. My
sense of smell, without being particularly delicate,
has been so offended in some of the commoner
places of public resort, that I have often been
obliged to leave them when I have made an
uncommercial journey expressly to look on. The
air of this Theatre was fresh, cool, and wholesome.
To help towards this end, very sensible
precautions had been used, ingeniously combining
the experience of hospitals and railway
stations. Asphalte pavements substituted for
wooden floors, honest bare walls of glazed brick
and tileeven at the back of the boxesfor
plaster and paper, no benches stuffed, and no
carpeting or baize used: a cool material with
a light glazed surface, being the covering of the

These various contrivances are as well
considered in the place in question as if it were a
Fever Hospital; the result is, that it is sweet
and healthful. It has been constructed from
the ground to the roof, with a careful reference
to sight and sound in every corner;
the result is, that its form is beautiful, and
that the appearance of the audience, as seen
from the prosceniumwith every face in it
commanding the stage, and the whole so
admirably raked and turned to that centre,
that a hand can scarcely move in the great
assemblage without the movement being seen
from thenceis highly remarkable in its union
of vastness with compactness. The stage itself,
and all its appurtenances of machinery, cellarage,
height, and breadth, are on a scale more like the
Scala at Milan, or the San Carlo at Naples, or
the Grand Opera at Paris, than any notion a
stranger would be likely to form of the Britannia
Theatre at Hoxton, a mile north of Saint Luke's
Hospital in the Old-street-road, London. The
Forty Thieves might be played here, and every
thief ride his real horse, and the disguised
captain bring in his oil jars on a train of real camels,
and nobody be put out of the way. This really
extraordinary place is the achievement of one
man's enterprise, and was erected on the ruins
of an inconvenient old building, in less than five
months, at a round cost of five-and-twenty
thousand pounds. To dismiss this part of my
subject, and still to render to the proprietor the
credit that is strictly his due, I must add that