Mr. Nightingale’s Diary – by Charles Dickens and Mark Lemon (1851)
Our story for today begins, with two of the most celebrated writers of their time, and with a far-sighted idea. Charles Dickens and Edward Bulwer-Lytton, working together, wished to found a “Guild of Literature and Art”, a society which would have both prestige and practical benefits. It would provide life assurance and retirement homes for its literary members, and it would also strengthen the sometimes dubious social status of men of letters. Bulwer-Lytton would contribute land for the housing, and he would write a new play, a five-act comedy, to be staged as a benefit performance to raise funds for the new Guild. His friend Charles Dickens would write a new farce to follow the comedy, an after-piece, that is, a light one-act wind-down play, a farce, which by convention wrapped up the evening’s more substantial fare. This ambitious plan was the genesis of Mr. Nightingale’s Diary.
Dickens began working on his contribution, while his wife Catherine was taking a month for a medical holiday at Malvern. Dickens stayed with her there for much of the time. He wrote to an old friend, mentioning a begging letter he had received, and added (28 Mar 1851): “also I am here with Kate for her health—cold water cure!” (Pilgrim 6:338). The “cold water cure”, hydropathy, was a regimen of medical treatment at Malvern and other retreats; it centred on cold water taken internally and externally, and included rest, controlled diet, exercise, and abstinence from alcohol. It also sometimes included wrapping the patient in wet sheets; that last bit can’t have helped a sick person too much, but the remainder sounds fairly healthy.
Dickens started writing some farce while at Malvern—perhaps Diary, perhaps a different one—but he soon ran into trouble. As he wrote Forster (23 Mar 1851): “I have written the first scene, and it has droll points in it, ‘more farcical points than you commonly find in farces,’ really better. Yet I am constantly striving, for my reputation's sake, to get into it a meaning that is impossible in a farce; constantly thinking of it, therefore, against the grain; and constantly impressed with a conviction that I could never act in it myself with that wild abandonment which can alone carry a farce off” (Pilgrim 6:329). Stumped on how to proceed, and concerned he would be too busy to complete it, Dickens at some point called on the aid of Mark Lemon, a practiced farceur, who had already had thirty of his burlettas and farces produced in London.
Lemon was a founding editor of Punch (1841), and soon the sole editor. A family friend, Dickens and Lemon had met years before (1843), probably introduced by Douglas Jerrold. Dickens’s daughters Mary and Kate were particularly close to Lemon’s daughters Lally and Betty, and Lemon dedicated his fairy tale “The Enchanted Doll” to the Dickens girls (1850). Mary and Kate called Lemon “Uncle Mark”. Lemon and his Punch colleagues frequently took a part in Dickens’s amateur theatricals, and the editor had once played Falstaff, in The Merry Wives of Windsor, with no extra padding necessary (1848). In Mr. Nightingale’s Diary, Lemon’s character is said to have played Prince Henry drinking sack, and this is an oblique allusion to the Falstaff role (Falstaff drinks sack in King Henry IV parts 1 and 2). In fact you will see many references in Diary to Lemon’s amateur acting and Falstaffian size.
Dickens’s life was often crossed with great adversity, and during the period of writing Diary, the beloved author suffered an almost unthinkable tragedy—he lost first his father, and then his youngest child, only two weeks apart. Lemon and Forster together gave Dickens the news of the death of his infant daughter Dora, and it was Lemon who stayed by Dickens that night (14 Apr 1851). Years later, Dickens wrote Lemon: “…I have not forgotten (and never shall forget) who sat up with me one night when a little place in my house was left empty. | It is hard to lose any child, but there are many blessed sources of consolation in the loss of a baby” (Pilgrim 7:599). Despite the loss, or because of it, Charles Dickens looked deep into the place where writers look, and in partnership with Mark Lemon, he wrote his best play. Years later, Dickens wrote Lemon: “It is quite a treat to think of a new farce. We had so many happy hours with the old one” (Pilgrim 8:155). It is to be hoped that the writing and acting of Diary provided some ease to Dickens’s grief.
By May 1st, the collaboration was nearly complete, and Dickens wrote Bulwer-Lytton: “…I am now obliged to fall to work on the Farce, in which I am assisting Lemon and which must be finished this week. I think it will be very good. It is called | Mr. Nightingale's Diary” (Pilgrim 6:371–72). An early draft of the play by Lemon exists in manuscript, and has been published (see Fisher). Surprisingly, the Lemon draft features three of Dickens’s most popular characters—and the action is set in Malvern.
Did Dickens give Lemon his unfinished first scene? Did Dickens suggest ideas to Lemon, to get the collaboration started? It may be, but whatever the case, it does appear, from reading Lemon’s draft, that the Punch editor was trying to think like Dickens, and to come up with scenes and characters to engage the interest of the great author and his fans. In a very real sense, it doesn’t matter; for the nature of a successful collaboration is that each partner tries to come up with work to please and represent the team entire. In this case Lemon hit exactly the right note—a farce which was short, broad, and silly enough to satisfy the genre, but which also included analogues of Sam Weller, Mrs. Gamp, and Betsey Prig, who were to give a tremendous thrill to Dickens’s audiences, despite the farce’s lack of “meaning”.
By May 9th, Mrs. Nightingale’s Diary was privately printed for Dickens (by Bradbury and Evans) as a prompt-copy, to help the actors learn their lines. Most editors and commentators, the current editor included, follow Forster, in believing that Dickens and Lemon contributed to the writing equally. Since Lemon initiated the writing, then if both authors were equal partners, the play should be credited to Lemon and Dickens. But Dickens has usually gotten top billing, and sometimes (unfortunately) sole billing, perhaps because his name was more commercial. As to who wrote what, a reader might assume each author wrote his own part, and to some extent this is probably true, but a few of Dickens’s best lines appear in the Lemon draft. The play should be considered a collaboration.
The Guild’s centrepiece play, Bulwer-Lytton’s comedy Not so Bad as we Seem, premiered at Devonshire House, before Victoria and Albert (16 May), on an evening which has become the stuff of legend. The Great Exhibition had just opened (1 May), and the play was said to be “one of the very few topics, in fact, the interest of which has not been put down and eclipsed by the Crystal Palace” (Fisher, 12). Little wonder, for the Devonshire stage was built by Joseph Paxton, who was the architect of the Crystal Palace. There was no after-piece or farce that first night. The general manager—Dickens—knew that the Queen would get too restless near midnight. Mr. Nightingale’s Diary premiered eleven days later (27 May), on the same stage, after the second showing of the comedy.
It was a great hit. Bentley’s Miscellany wrote: “The vivacity of this smart farce told with remarkable effect after the stately and comparatively sombre tone of the comedy” (Fisher, 12). Mr. Nightingale’s Diary became the most popular portion of the program. Another farce, Two o’Clock in Morning, later had to be cut. Dickens wrote: “Funny as it used to be, it is become impossible to get anything out of it after the scream of Mr. Nightingale's Diary” (Pilgrim 6:748). R.H. Horne, an author who acted in Not so Bad as we Seem, wrote two articles describing every aspect of the production of both plays, including Dickens’s management and the audience’s thrilled reactions. These are included in the Afterword.
The Guild took the two new plays on the road, and had several successful benefit tours throughout the provinces over the next year and a half, eventually giving Diary about 20 performances. A few years later, Dickens and friends revived the play, to serve as the after-piece to the amateur premiere of The Lighthouse, a new play by Wilkie Collins. It was played three nights on the children’s stage in Dickens’s Tavistock House—billed as “THE SMALLEST THEATRE IN THE WORLD!” (16, 18, 19 June 1855). Rosina was acted by Dickens’s daughter Kate, and Susan by his sister-in-law Georgina Hogarth. In modern times, the play, which is, as noted, set in Malvern, has been revived, very appropriately, at the Malvern Festival Theatre (1969): “very successfully” (“Revived”, 177). It was also staged for five nights in Leicester (1970), and given a costumed reading by the Mark Lemon Society in Sussex (1991).
The Guild of Literature and Art itself was not so popular as the Diary. It was handicapped by the restrictive terms of its act of incorporation (1854), and though three retirement houses were eventually opened (1865), no occupants could be found for the homes, nor purchasers for the life assurance. The Guild was finally disbanded (1897).
What remains behind as a monument to the Guild, and perhaps to Dora also, is a marvellous little one-act farce, which to modern-day readers will at first be difficult, but when finally penetrated is extremely funny. Stick with the play until the end, when comes Dickens’s tour de force as a quick-change trickster and personator. The dazzling scene fulfils one of his juvenile dreams—to give a Charles-Mathews-style performance. Charles Mathews (1776-1835) was a popular London comic monologist. His one-man shows, of sketch comedy, rapid costume changes, witty songs, and dialect and ethnic impersonations, were a very significant influence on the young Charles Dickens. In Mathews’s performances, he would enact a one-act farce, playing all the parts himself, rapidly shedding and donning coats, wigs, moustaches, and props, while likewise switching his voice, attitude, posture, and body language. Mathews called such a show a “monopolylogue”. When Dickens applied for an audition as an actor (1832), he told the theatre manager he knew three or four years worth of Mathews’s shows, from sitting in the pit to hear them (Pilgrim 4:244).
Dickens’s public readings were a bit like Mathews’s “At Home” spectacles, but Dickens did his readings in formal evening wear, while Diary is a full-gauge full-costume performance. You will see Gabblewig (the Dickens character) impersonating not only Sam Weller, but also Dickens himself, in his role as a prodigious pedestrian, and other characters as well. Most galvanizing of all is the image of Dickens playing Mrs. Gamp to Lemon’s Betsey Prig; the scene has an vividness which is startling. This is the closest you will ever come to seeing one of Dickens’s public readings in person. Prepare to see this now, much as that night so long ago, when the crowd would have returned from intermission, the fine ladies and gentlemen would be seated, the lights would go down, the house would grow quiet, and the curtain would rise.
MR. NIGHTINGALE’S DIARY
IN ONE ACT
BY CHARLES DICKENS AND MARK LEMON
AT DEVONSHIRE HOUSE, TUESDAY, MAY 27, 1851
MR. DUDLEY COSTELLO.
MR. GABBLEWIG (of the Middle Temple)
MR. CHARLES DICKENS.
TIP (his Tiger)
MR. AUGUSTUS EGG.
SLAP (professionally Mr. Flormiville)
MR. MARK LEMON.
LITHERS (landlord of the
MR. WILKIE COLLINS.
MISS ELLEN CHAPLIN.
MR. NIGHTINGALE’S DIARY
SCENE I.—The Common Room in The Water Lily Hotel at Malvern: Door and Window in flat. A carriage stops. Doorbell rings violently.
TIP (without). Now, then! Wai-ter! Landlord! Somebody! (Enter TIP, through door, with a quantity of luggage.)
Enter LITHERS, L., running in.
LITHERS. Here you are, my boy.
TIP (much offended). My boy! Who are you boying of! Don’t do it. I won’t have it. The worm will turn if it’s trod upon.
LITHERS. I never trod upon you.
TIP. What do you mean by calling me a worm?
LITHERS. You called yourself one. You ought to know what you are, better than I do.
GABBLEWIG (without). Has any body seen that puppy of mine—answers to the name of ‘Tip’—with a gold-lace collar? (Enters.) O! here you are! You scoundrel, where have you been?
LITHERS. Good gracious me! Why, if it ain’t Mr. Gabblewig, Junior.
GABBLEWIG. What, Lithers! Do you turn up at Malvern Wells, of all the places upon earth?
LITHERS. Bless you, sir, I’ve been landlord of this little place these two years! Ever since you did me that great kindness—ever since you paid out that execution for me when I was in the green-grocery way, and used to wait at your parties in the Temple—which is five years ago come Christmas—I’ve been (through a little legacy my wife dropped into) in the public line. I’m overjoyed to see you, sir. How do you do, sir? Do you find yourself pretty well, sir?
GABBLEWIG (moodily seating himself). Why, no, I can’t say I am pretty well.
TIP. No more ain’t I.
GABBLEWIG. Be so good as to take those boots of yours into the kitchen, sir.
TIP (reluctantly). Yes, sir.
GABBLEWIG. And the baggage into my bedroom.
TIP. Yes, sir. (Aside.) Here’s a world!
LITHERS. The Queen’s Counsellor that is to be, looks very down—uncommonly down. Something’s wrong. I wonder what it is. Can’t be debt. Don’t look like drinking. Hope it isn’t dice! Ahem! Beg your pardon, Mr. Gabblewig, but you’d wish to dine, sir? He don’t hear. (Gets round, dusting the table as he goes, and at last stoops his head so as to come face to face with him.) What would you choose for dinner, Mr. Gabblewig?
GABBLEWIG. O, ah, yes! Give me some cold veal.
LITHERS. Cold veal!—He’s out of his mind.
GABBLEWIG. I am a miserable wretch. I was going to be married. I am not going to be married. The young lady’s uncle refuses to consent. It’s all off—all over—all up!
LITHERS. But there are other young ladies—
GABBLEWIG. Don’t talk nonsense.
LITHERS (aside). All the rest are cold veal, I suppose. But—you’ll excuse my taking the liberty, being so much beholden to you,—but couldn’t anything be done, to get over the difficulty?
GABBLEWIG. Nothing at all. How’s it possible? Do you know the nature of the uncle’s objection? But of course you don’t. I’ll tell you. He says I speak too fast, and am too slow—want reality of purpose, and all that. He says I am all words. What the devil else does he suppose I can be, being a lawyer! He says I happen to be counsel for his daughter just now, but after marriage might be counsel for the opposite side. He says I am wanting in earnestness—deficient in moral go-aheadism—
LITHERS. In which?
GABBLEWIG. Just so. In consequence of which, you behold before you a crushed flower. I am shut up and done for—the peace of the valley is fled—I have come down here to see if the cold water cure will have any effect on a broken heart. Having had a course of wet blanket, I am going to try the wet sheet—Dare say I shall finish before long with a daisy counterpane.
LITHERS (aside). Everybody’s bit by the cold water. It will be the ruin of our business.
GABBLEWIG. If the waters of Malvern were the waters of Lethe, I’d take a douche, forty feet high, this afternoon, and drink five-and-twenty tumblers before breakfast to-morrow morning. Anything to wash out the tormenting remembrance of Rosina Nightingale.
LITHERS. Nightingale, Mr. Gabblewig!
GABBLEWIG. Nightingale. As the Shakespeare duet went, in the happy days of our amateur plays:
The Nightingale alone.
She poor bird as all forlorn,
Leaned her breast uptil a thorn.
I’ve no doubt she’s doing it at the present moment—or leaning her head against the drawing-room window, looking across the crescent. It’s all the same.
LITHERS. The crescent, Mr. Gabblewig?
GABBLEWIG. The crescent.
LITHERS. Not at Bath?
GABBLEWIG. At Bath.
LITHERS (feeling in his pockets). Good gracious! (Gives a letter.) Look at that, sir.
GABBLEWIG. The cramped hand of the obstinate old bird, who might, could, should have been—and wouldn’t be—my father-in-law! (Reads.) ‘Christopher Nightingale’s compliments to the landlord of the Water Lily, at Malvern Wells.’
LITHERS. The present establishment.
GABBLEWIG (reading). ‘And hearing it is a quiet, unpretending, well-conducted house, requests to have the following rooms prepared for him on Tuesday afternoon.’
LITHERS. The present afternoon.
GABBLEWIG (reading). ‘Namely, a private setting-room, with a’—what! a weed? He don’t smoke.
LITHERS (looking over his shoulder). A view, sir.
GABBLEWIG. Oh! ‘With a view,’ aye, aye,—‘a bedroom for Christopher N., with a’—what? with a wormy pew!
LITHERS (looking over his shoulder). A warming-pan.
GABBLEWIG. To be sure; but it’s as like one as the other. ‘With a warming-pan, and two suitable chambers for Miss Rosina Nightingale.’—Support me.
LITHERS. Hold up, Mr. Gabblewig.
GABBLEWIG. You might knock me down with a feather.
LITHERS. But you needn’t knock me down with a barrister. Hold up, sir!
GABBLEWIG (reading). ‘And her maid. Christopher Nightingale intends to try the cold water cure.’
LITHERS. I beg your pardon, sir. What’s his complaint?
LITHERS (shaking his head). He’ll never get over it, sir. Of all the invalids that come down here, the invalids that have nothing the matter with them are the hopeless cases.
GABBLEWIG (reading). ‘Cold water cure, having drunk (see Diary) four hundred and sixty-seven gallons, three pints and a half, of the various celebrated waters of England and Germany, and proved them to be all Humbugs. He has likewise proved (see Diary) all Pills to be humbugs. Miss Rosina Nightingale, being rather low, will also try the cold water cure, which will probably rouse her.’ Never!
Perhaps she, like me, may struggle with
(And I have no doubt of it, Lithers, for she has the tenderest heart in the world)
Some feeling of regret
(awakened by the present individual)
But if she loved as I have loved,
(and I have no doubt she did—and does)
She never can forget.
(And she won’t, I feel convinced, if it’s only in obstinacy.) (Gives back letter.)
LITHERS. Well, sir, what’ll you do? I’m entirely devoted to you, and ready to serve you in any way. Will you have a ladder from the builder’s, and run away with the young lady in the middle of the night; or would the key of the street-door be equally agreeable?
GABBLEWIG. Neither! Can’t be done. If it could be done, I should have done it at Bath. Grateful duty won’t admit of union without consent of uncle—uncle won’t give consent—stick won’t beat dog—dog won’t bite pig—pig won’t get over the stile—and so the lovers will never be married! (Sitting down as before.) Give me the cold veal, and the day before yesterday’s paper.
[Exit LITHERS, L., and immediately returns with papers.
SLAP. (Without.) Halloa, here! My name is Flormiville. Is Mr. Flormiville’s luggage arrived? Several boxes were sent on beforehand for Mr. Flormiville; are those boxes here? (Entering at door, preceded by LITHERS, who bows him in.) Do you hear me, my man? Has Mr. Flormiville’s luggage—I am Mr. Flormiville—arrived?
LITHERS. Quite safely, sir, yesterday. Three boxes, sir, and a pair of foils.
SLAP. And a pair of foils. The same. Very good. Take this cap. (LITHERS puts it down.) Good. Put these gloves in the cap. (LITHERS does so.) Good. Give me the cap again; it’s cold. (He does so.) Very good. Are you the landlord?
LITHERS. I am Thomas Lithers, the landlord, sir.
SLAP. Very good. You write in the title-pages of all your books, no doubt:—
Thomas Lithers is my name,
And landlord is my station;
Malvern Wells my dwelling-place,
And Chalk my occupation.
What have you got to eat, my man?
LITHERS. Well, sir, we could do you a nice steak; or we could toss you up a cutlet; or—
SLAP. What have you ready dressed, my man?
LITHERS. We have a very fine York ham, and a beautiful fowl, sir—
SLAP. Produce them! Let the banquet be served. Stay; have you—
LITHERS. (Rubbing his hands.) Well, sir, we have; and I can strongly recommend it.
SLAP. To what may that remark refer, my friend?
LITHERS. I thought you mentioned Rhine-wine, sir.
SLAP. O, truly. Yes, I think I did. Yes, I am sure I did. Is it very fine?
LITHERS. It is uncommon fine, sir. Liebfraumilch of the most delicious quality.
SLAP. You may produce a flask. The price is no consideration—(aside) as I shall never pay for it.
LITHERS. Directly, sir.
SLAP. So. He bites. He will be done. If he will be done, he must be done. I can’t help it. Thus men rush upon their fate. A stranger? Hum! Your servant, sir. My name is Flormiville—
GABBLEWIG (who has previously observed him). Of several provincial theatres, I believe, and formerly engaged to assist an amateur company at Bath, under the management of—
SLAP (with a theatrical pretence of being affected). Mr. Gabblewig! Heavens! This recognition is so sudden—so unlooked for—it unmans me. (Aside.) Owe him fifteen pounds, four shirts, and a waistcoat. Hope he’s forgotten the loan of those trifles. O, sir, if I drop a tear upon that hand!—
GABBLEWIG. Consider it done. Suppose the tear, as we used to say at rehearsal. How are you going on? You have left the profession?
SLAP (aside). Or the profession left me; I either turned it off, or it turned me off; all one. (Aloud.) Yes, Mr. Gabblewig, I am now living on a little property—that is, I have expectations—(aside) of doing an old gentleman.
GABBLEWIG. I have my apprehensions, Mr. Flormiville, otherwise I believe Mr. Slap—
SLAP. Slap, sir, was my father’s name. Do not reproach me with the misfortunes of my ancestors.
GABBLEWIG. I was about to say, Slap, otherwise Flormiville, that I have a very strong belief that you have been for some time established in the begging-letter-writing business. And when a gentleman of that description drops a tear on my hand, my hand has a tendency to drop itself on his nose.
SLAP. I don’t understand you, sir.
GABBLEWIG. I see you don’t. Now the danger is, that I, Gabblewig, may take my profession of the law into my own hands, and eject Slap, otherwise Flormiville, from the nearest casement or window, being at a height or distance from the ground not exceeding five-and-twenty feet.
SLAP (angrily). Sir, I perceive how it is. A vindictive old person, of the name of Nightingale, who denounced me to the Mendicity Society, and who has pursued me in various ways, has prejudiced your mind some how, publicly or privately, against an injured and calumniated victim. But let that Nightingale beware; for, if the Nightingale is not a bird though an old one that I will catch yet once again with chaff, and clip the wings of, too, I’m—(aside) Confound my temper, where’s it running! (Affects to weep in silence.)
GABBLEWIG (aside). Oho! That’s what brings him here, is it? A trap for the Nightingales! I may show the old fellow that I have some purpose in me, after all!—Those amateur dresses among my baggage!—Lithers’s assistance—done! Mr. Flormiville.
SLAP (with injured dignity). Sir!
GABBLEWIG (taking up his hat and stick). As I am not ambitious of the honour of your company, I shall leave you in possession of this apartment. I believe you are rather absent, are you not?
SLAP. Sir, I am, rather so.
GABBLEWIG. Exactly. Then you will do me the favour to observe that the spoons and forks of this establishment are the private property of the landlord.
SLAP. And that man wallows in eight hundred a year, and half that sum would make my wife and children (if I had any) happy!
Enter LITHERS (L.), with tray, on which are fowl, ham, bread, and glasses.
But, arise black vengeance! Nightingale shall suffer doubly. Nightingale found me out. When a man finds me out in imposing on him, I never forgive him—and when he don’t find me out, I never leave off imposing on him. Those are my principles. What ho! Wine here!
LITHERS (arranging table and chair). Wine coming, sir, directly! My young man has gone below for it. (Bell rings without.) More company? Mr. Nightingale, beyond a doubt! (Showing him in at door.) This way, sir, if you please! Your letter received, sir, and your rooms prepared.
SLAP (looking off melodramatically, before seating himself at table). Is that the malignant whom these eyes have never yet bel-asted with a look? Caitiff, tereremble!
Sits, as NIGHTINGALE enters with ROSINA and SUSAN. NIGHTINGALE muffled in a shawl, and carrying a great coat.
NIGHTINGALE (to LITHERS). That’ll do, that’ll do. Don’t bother, sir. I am nervous, and can’t bear to be bothered. What I want is peace. Instead of peace, I’ve got (looking at ROSINA) what rhymes to it, and is not at all like it. (Sits, covering his legs with his great coat.)
ROSINA. O uncle! Is it not enough that I am never to redeem those pledges which—
NIGHTINGALE. Don’t talk to me about redeeming pledges, as if I was a pawnbroker! O! (Starts.)
ROSINA. Are you ill, sir?
NIGHTINGALE. Am I ever anything else, ma’am! Here! Refer to Diary. (Gives book.) Rosina, save me the trouble of my glasses. See last Tuesday.
ROSINA (turning over leaves). I see it, sir.
NIGHTINGALE. What’s the afternoon entry?
ROSINA (reading). ‘New symptom. Crick in back. Sensation as if Self a stiff boot-jack suddenly tried to be doubled up by strong person.’
NIGHTINGALE (starts again). O!
ROSINA. Symptom repeated, sir?
NIGHTINGALE. Symptom repeated. I must put it down. (SUSAN brings chair, and produces screw-inkstand and pen from her pocket. NIGHTINGALE takes the book on his knee, and writes.) ‘Symptom repeated.’—O! (Starts again.) ‘Symptom re-repeated.’ (Writes again.) Mr. Lithers, I believe?
LITHERS. At your service, sir.
NIGHTINGALE. Mr. Lithers, I am a nervous man, and require peace. We had better come to an understanding. I am a water patient, but I’ll pay for wine. You’ll be so good as to call the pump sherry at lunch, port at dinner, and brandy-and-water at night. Now, be so kind as to direct the chambermaid to show this discontented young lady her room.
LITHERS. Certainly, Sir. This way, if you please, Miss. (He whispers her. She screams.)
NIGHTINGALE (alarmed). What’s the matter?
ROSINA. O uncle! I felt as if—don’t be frightened, uncle—as if something had touched me here (with her hand upon her heart) so unexpectedly, that I—don’t be frightened, uncle—that I almost dropped, uncle.
NIGHTINGALE. Lord bless me! Boot-jack and strong person contagious! Susan, a mouthful of ink. (Dips his pen in her inkstand, and writes.) ‘Symptom, shortly afterwards, repeated in niece!’ Susan, you don’t feel anything particular, do you?
SUSAN. Nothing whatever, sir.
NIGHTINGALE. You never do. You are the most aggravating young woman in the world.
SUSAN. Lor, sir, you wouldn’t wish a party ill, I’m sure!
NIGHTINGALE. Ill! you are ill, if you only knew it. If you were as intimate with your own interior as I am with mine, your hair would stand on end.
SUSAN. Then I’m very glad of my ignorance, sir, for I wish it to keep in curl. Now Miss Rosina! (Exit ROSINA, making a sign of secrecy to LITHERS who goes before.) Oho! there’s something in the wind that’s not the boot-jack!
[Exit SUSAN, L.
NIGHTINGALE (seated). There’s a man, yonder, eating his dinner, as if he enjoyed it. I should say, from his figure, that he generally did enjoy his dinner. I wish I did. I wonder whether there is anything that would do me good. I have tried hot water and hot mud and hot vapour, and have imbibed all sorts of springs, from zero to boiling, and have gone completely through the pharmacopœia; yet I don’t find myself a bit better. My Diary is my only comfort. (Putting it in his great coat pocket, unconsciously drops it.) When I began to book my symptoms, and to refer back of an evening, then I began to find out my true condition. O! (starts) what’s that? That’s a new symptom. Lord bless me! Sensation as if small train of gunpowder sprinkled from left hip to ankle, and exploded by successful Guy Fawkes. I must book it at once, or I shall be taken with something else before it’s entered. Susan, another mouthful of ink! Most extraordinary!
(SLAP cautiously approaches the Diary; as he does so,
GABBLEWIG looks in and listens.)
SLAP. What’s this—hum! A Diary—remarkable passion for pills and quite a furor for doctors—Very unconjugal allusions to Mrs. Nightingale—Poor Maria, most valuable of sisters, to me an annuity—to your husband a tormentor. Hum! Shall I bleed him, metaphorically bleed him. Why not? He never regarded the claims of kindred; why should I? He returns. (Puts down book.)
Re-enter NIGHTINGALE, looking about.
NIGHTINGALE. Bless my heart, I have left my Diary somewhere. O! here is the precious volume—no doubt where I dropped it. (Picks up book.) If the stranger had opened it, what information he might have acquired! He’d have found out, by analogy, things concerning himself that he little dreams of. He has no idea how ill he is, or how thin he ought to be.
SLAP. Now, then, (tucking up his wristbands) for the fowl in earnest! Where is that wine! Hallo! Where is that wine!
Enter (L.) GABBLEWIG, disguised as Boots.
GABBLEWIG. Here you are, sir! (Starting.) What do I behold! Mr. Flormiville, the imminent tragedian?
SLAP. Who the devil are you? Keep off!
GABBLEWIG. What! Don’t you remember me, sir?
SLAP. No, I don’t indeed.
GABBLEWIG. Not wen I carried a banner, with a silver dragon on it; wen you played the Tartar Prince, at What’s-his-name; and wen you used to bring the ouse down with that there pint about rewenge, you know?
SLAP. What? Do you mean when I struck the attitude, and said, ‘Ar-recreant! The Per-rincess and r-r-revenge are both my own! She is my per-risoner—Tereremble!’
GABBLEWIG. Never! This to decide. (They go through the motions of a broad-sword combat. SLAP, having been run through the body, sits down and begins to eat voraciously. GABBLEWIG, who has kept the bottle all the while, sits opposite him at table.) Ah! Lor bless me, what a actor you was! (Drinks.) That’s what I call the true tragic fire—wen you strike it out of the swords. Give me showers of sparks, and then I know what you’re up to! Lor’ bless me, the way I’ve seen you perspire! I shall never see such a actor agin.
SLAP (complacently). I think you remember me.
GABBLEWIG. Think? Why don’t you remember, wen you left Taunton, without paying that there washerwoman; and wen she—
SLAP. You needn’t proceed. It’s quite clear you remember me.
GABBLEWIG (drinks again). Lor bless my heart, yes, what a actor you was! What a Romeo you was, you know. (Drinks again.)
SLAP. I believe there was something in me, as Romeo.
GABBLEWIG. Ah! and something of you, too, you know. The Montagues was a fine family, when you was the lightest weight among ’em. And Lor’ bless my soul, wot a Prince Henry you was! I see you a drinking the sack now, I do! (Drinks again.)
SLAP. I beg your pardon, my friend, is that my wine?
GABBLEWIG (affecting to meditate, and drinking again). Lor bless me, wot a actor! I seem to go into a trance-like, when I think of it. (Is filling his glass again, when SLAP comes round and takes the bottle.) I’ll give you, Flormiville and the Draymer! Hooray! (Drinks, and then takes a leg of the fowl in his fingers. SLAP removes the dish.)
SLAP (aside). At least he doesn’t know that I was turned out of the company in disgrace. That’s something. Are you the waiter here, my cool but discriminative acquaintance?
GABBLEWIG. Well, I’m a sort of waiter, and a sort of a half-boots, I was with a Travelling Circus, a’rter I left you. ‘The riders—the riders! Be in time—be in time! Now, Mr. Merryman, all in to begin!’ All that you know. But I shall never see acting no more. It went right out with you, bless you! (All through this dialogue, whenever SLAP, in a moment of confidence, replaces the fowl or wine, GABBLEWIG helps himself.)
SLAP (aside). I’ll pump him—rule in life. Whenever no other work on hand, pump! (To him.) I forget your name.
GABBLEWIG. Bit—Charley Bit. That’s my real name. When I first went on with the banners, I was Blitheringtonfordbury. But they said it come so expensive in the printing, that I left it off.
SLAP. Much business done in this house?
GABBLEWIG. Wery flat.
SLAP. Old gentleman in nankeen trowsers been here long?
GABBLEWIG. Just come. Wot do you think I’ve heerd? S’posed to be a bachelor, but got a wife.
SLAP. Got a wife, eh? Ha, ha, ha! You’re as sharp as a lancet. Ha, ha, ha! Yes, yes, no doubt. Got a wife. Yes, yes.
GABBLEWIG (aside). Eh! A flash! The intense enjoyment of my friend suggests to me that old Nightingale hasn’t got a wife—that he’s free, but don’t know it. Fraud! Mum! (To him). I say, you’re a—but Lor bless my soul, wot a actor you wos!
SLAP. It’s really touching, his relapsing into that! But I can’t indulge him, poor fellow. My time is precious. You were going to say—
GABBLEWIG. I was going to say, you are up to a thing or two, and so—but, Lor bless my heart alive, wot a Richard the Third you wos! Wen you used to come the sliding business, you know (both starting up and doing it).
SLAP. This child of nature positively has judgment! It was one of my effects. Calm yourself, good fellow. ‘And so’—you were observing—
GABBLEWIG (close to him, in a sudden whisper). And so I’ll tell you. He hasn’t really got a wife. She’s dead. (SLAP starts.—GABBLEWIG aside.) I am right! He knows it! Mrs. Nightingale’s as dead as a door-nail! (A pause. They stand close together, looking at each other.)
SLAP. Indeed? (GABBLEWIG nods.) Some piece of cunning, I suppose? (GABBLEWIG winks.) Buried somewhere, of course? (GABBLEWIG lays his fingers on his nose.) Where? (GABBLEWIG looks a little disconcerted.) (Aside.) All’s safe. No proof. (Aloud.) Take away.
GABBLEWIG (as he goes up to table). Too sudden on my part. Flormiville wins first knock-down blow. Never mind. Gabblewig up again, and at him once more. (Clears the table, and takes the tray away.)
SLAP. How does he know? He’s in the market. Shall I buy him? Not yet. Necessity not yet proved. With Nightingale here, and my dramatic trunks upstairs, I’ll strike at least another blow on the hot iron for myself, before I think of taking a partner into the forge.
As GABBLEWIG returns from clearing away, enter SUSAN.
GABBLEWIG. Susan! Susan!
SUSAN. Susan, indeed! Well, diffidence ain’t the prevailing complaint at Malvern.
GABBLEWIG. Don’t you know me? Mr. Gabble—
SUSAN.—Wig! Why, la, sir, then you’re the bootjack! Now I understand, of course.
GABBLEWIG. More than I do. I the bootjack? Susan, listen! Did you know that Mr. Nightingale had been married?
SUSAN. Why, I never heard it exactly.
GABBLEWIG. But you’ve seen it, perhaps? Had a peep into that eternal Diary—eh?
SUSAN. Well, sir, to say the pious truth, I did read one day something or another about a—a wife. You see he married a wife when he was very young.
SUSAN. And she was the plague of his life ever afterwards.
GABBLEWIG. O, Rosina, can such things be! Yes. Susan, I think you are a native of Malvern?
SUSAN. Yes, sir, leastways I was so, before I went to live in London.
GABBLEWIG. You persuaded Mr. Nightingale to come down here, in order that he might try the cold water cure?
SUSAN. La, sir.
GABBLEWIG. And in order that you might see your relations?
SUSAN. La, sir, how did you know?
GABBLEWIG. Knowledge of human nature, Susan. Now rub up your memory, and tell me—did you ever know a Mrs. Nightingale who lived down here? Think—your eyes brighten—you smile—you did know Mrs. Nightingale who lived down here.
SUSAN. To be sure I did, sir; but that could never have been—
GABBLEWIG. Your master’s wife—I suspect she was. She died?
SUSAN. Yes, sir.
GABBLEWIG. And was buried?
SUSAN. You know everything.
SUSAN. Why, in Pershore churchyard; my uncle was sexton there.
GABBLEWIG. Uncle living?
SUSAN. Ninety years of age. With a trumpet.
GABBLEWIG. That he plays on?
SUSAN. Plays on? No. Hears with.
GABBLEWIG. Good. Susan, make it your business to get me a certificate of the old lady’s death, and that within an hour.
SUSAN. Why, sir?
GABBLEWIG. Susan, I suspect the old lady walks, and I intend to lay her ghost. You ask how?
SUSAN. No, sir, I didn’t.
GABBLEWIG. You thought it. That you shall know by and bye. Here comes the old bird. Fly! (Exit SUSAN.) Whilst I reconnoitre the enemy.
[Exit through door.
Enter NIGHTINGALE and ROSINA.
ROSINA. My dear uncle, pray do nothing rash; you are in capital health at present, and who knows what the doctors may make you.
NIGHTINGALE. Capital health? I’ve not known a day’s health for these twenty years. (Refers to Diary.) ‘January 6th, 1834. Pain in right thumb, query, gout. Send for Blair’s pills. Take six. Can’t sleep all night. Doze about seven.’ (Turns over leaf.) ‘March 12th, 1839: Violent cough; query, damp umbrella left by church-rates in hall? Try lozenges. Bed at six—gruel—tallow nose—dream of general illumination. March 13th: Miserable.’ (cold always makes me miserable.) ‘Receive a letter from Mrs. Nightin— —’ hem!
ROSINA. What did you say, sir?
NIGHTINGALE. Have the nightmare, my dear. (Aside.) Nearly betrayed myself! (Aloud.) You hear this, and you talk about capital health, to a sufferer like me!
Enter SLAP, at back, dressed as a smug physician.
He appears to be looking about the room.
O! my spirits, my spirits! I wonder what water will do for them.
ROSINA. Why, reduce them, of course. Ah, my dear uncle, I often think that I am the cause of your disquietude. I often think that I ought to marry.
NIGHTINGALE. Very kind of you, indeed, my dear.
Enter GABBLEWIG, with a very large tumbler of water.
O! all right, young man. I had better begin. So, you think that you really ought, my love—purely on my account—to marry a Magpie, don’t you? (GABBLEWIG starts, and spills water over NIGHTINGALE.) What are you about?
GABBLEWIG. I beg pardon, sir. (Aside to ROSINA.) Bless you!
ROSINA. Ah! Gab!—O uncle—don’t be frightened—but—
NIGHTINGALE (about to drink, spills water). Return of boot-jack and strong person! I declare I’m taking all this water externally, when I ought to—
SLAP (seizing his hand). Rash man, forbear! Drain that chalice, and your life’s not worth a bodkin.
NIGHTINGALE. Dear me, Sir! It’s only water. I’m merely a pump patient. (GABBLEWIG and ROSINA speak aside, hurriedly.)
SLAP. Persevere, and twelve men of Malvern will sit upon you in less than a week, and, without retiring, bring in a verdict of ‘Found Drowned.’
GABBLEWIG (aside to ROSINA). I have my cue, follow me directly. I’ll bring you another glass, sir, in a quarter of an hour.
[Exit at door, ROSINA steals after him.
SLAP. A most debilitated pulse—(taking away water)—great want of coagulum—lymphitic to an alarming degree. Stamina (strikes him gently) weak—decidedly weak.
NIGHTINGALE. Right! Always was, sir. In ’48—I think it was ’48—(refers)—Yes, here it is. (Reads.) ‘Dyspeptic. Feel as if kitten at play within me. Try chalk and pea-flour.’
SLAP. And grow worse.
NIGHTINGALE. Astonishing! I did—yes—(reads)—‘Fever—have head shaved.’
SLAP. And grow worse.
NIGHTINGALE. Amazing! Sir, you read me like a book. As there appears to be no dry remedy for my unfortunate case, I thought I’d try a wet one; and here I am, at the cold water.
SLAP. Water, unless in combination with alcohol, is poison to you. You want blood. In man there are two kinds of blood—one in a vessel, called a vein; hence venous blood—the other in the vessel called artery; hence arterial blood—the one dark, the other bright. Now, sir, the crassamentum of your blood is injured by too much water. How shall we thicken, sir? (Produces bottle.) By mustard and milk.
NIGHTINGALE. Mustard and milk?
SLAP. Mustard and milk, sir. Exhibited with a balsam known only to myself. (Aside.) Rum! (Aloud.) Single bottles, one guinea; case of twelve, ten pounds.
NIGHTINGALE. Mustard and milk! I don’t think I ever tried—Eh! Yes. (Opens Diary.) 1836; I recollect I once took—I took—oh—ah! ‘Two quarts of mustard-seed fasting.’
NIGHTINGALE. And you’d really advise me not to take water?
Enter at door GABBLEWIG and ROSINA, both equipped in walking dresses, thick shoes, &c. They keep walking about during the following.
GABBLEWIG. Who says don’t take water? Who says so?
NIGHTINGALE. Why, this gentleman, who is evidently a man of science.
GABBLEWIG. Pshaw! Eh dear. Not take water! Look at us—look at us—Mr. and Mrs. Poulter. Six months ago, I never took water, did I, dear?
GABBLEWIG. Hated it. Always washed in gin-and-water, and shaved with spirits of wine. Didn’t I, dear?
GABBLEWIG. Then what was I? What were we, I may say, my precious?
ROSINA. You may.
GABBLEWIG. A flabby, dabby couple, like a pair of wet leather gloves—no energy—no muscle—no go a-head. Now you see what we are; eh, dear? Ten miles before breakfast—home—gallon of water—ten miles more—gallon of water and leg of mutton—ten miles more—gallon of water—in fact, we’re never quiet, are we dear?
GABBLEWIG. Walk in our sleep—sometimes—can’t walk enough, that’s a fact, eh, dear!
ROSINA. Yes, dear!
SLAP. Confound this fellow, he’ll spoil all.
NIGHTINGALE. Well, sir, if you really could pull up for a few minutes, I should be extremely obliged to you.
GABBLEWIG. Here we are then—don’t keep us long—(Looks at watch. ROSINA does the same) say a minute, chronometer time.
NIGHTINGALE. You must know I’m an invalid.
GABBLEWIG. Five seconds.
NIGHTINGALE. Come down here to try the cold water cure.
GABBLEWIG. Ten seconds.
NIGHTINGALE. Dear me, sir, I wish you wouldn’t keep counting the time in that way, it increases my nervousness.
GABBLEWIG. Can’t help it, sir,—twenty seconds—go on, sir.
NIGHTINGALE. Well, sir, this gentleman tells me that my cran—crany—
SLAP. Crass-Crassa-mentum must not be made too sloppy.
NIGHTINGALE. And therefore he advises, sir.
GABBLEWIG. Forty seconds. Eh, dear! (Show watches to each other.)
ROSINA. Yes, dear!
NIGHTINGALE. I wish you wouldn’t—and that he advises me to try mustard and milk, sir.
SLAP. In combination with a rare balsam known only to myself, one guinea a bottle—case of twelve, ten pounds.
GABBLEWIG. Time’s up. (Walks again.) My darling, mustard and milk? Eh dear! Don’t we know a case of mustard and milk—Captain Blower, late sixteen stone, now ten and a half, all mustard and milk.
SLAP (aside). Can anybody have tried it?
GABBLEWIG (to NIGHTINGALE). Don’t be done! If I see Blower, I’ll send him to you—can’t stop longer, can we, dear—ten miles and a gallon to do before dinner. Leg of mutton and a gallon at dinner. Five miles and a wet sheet after dinner. Come, dear! (They walk out at door.)
NIGHTINGALE. A very remarkable couple—what do you think, now, sir?
SLAP. Think, sir? I think, sir, that any man who professes to walk ten miles a day, is a humbug, sir; I couldn’t do it.
NIGHTINGALE. But then the lady—
SLAP. I grieve to say that I think she’s a humbugess. Those people, my dear sir, are sent about as cheerful examples of the effects of cold water. Regularly paid, sir, to waylay new comers.
NIGHTINGALE. La, do you think so; do you think there are people base enough to trade upon human infirmities?
SLAP. Think so—I know it. There are men base enough to stand between you (shows bottle) and perfect health (shakes bottle) who would persuade you that perpetual juvenility was dear at one pound one a bottle, and that a green old age of a hundred and twenty was not worth ten pounds the case. That perambulating water-cart is such a man!
NIGHTINGALE. Wretch! What an escape I’ve had. My dear doctor. You are a doctor?
SLAP. D. D. and M. D. and corresponding member of the Mendicity Society.
SLAP. Medical (what a slip).
NIGHTINGALE. Then I shall be happy to try a bottle to begin with. (Gives money.)
SLAP. Ah! One bottle. (Gives bottle.) I’ve confidence in your case—you’ve none in mine. Ah! well!
NIGHTINGALE. A case be it, then, and I’ll pay the money at once. Permit me to try a little of the mixture. (Drinks.) It’s not very agreeable. I think I’ll make a note in my Diary of my first sensations.
Enter at door GABBLEWIG and ROSINA, the former as a
great invalid, the latter as an old nurse.
GABBLEWIG (aside calling). Rosina, quick, your arm. (Aloud.) I tell you, Mrs. Trusty, I can’t walk any farther.
ROSINA. Now, do try, sir; we are not a quarter of a mile from home.
GABBLEWIG. A quarter of a mile, why that’s a day’s journey to a man in my condition.
ROSINA. O dear! what shall I do?
NIGHTINGALE. You seem very ill, sir.
GABBLEWIG. Very, sir. I’m a snuff, sir—a mere snuff, flickering before I go out.
ROSINA. Oh, sir!—pray don’t die here; try and get home, and go out comfortably.
GABBLEWIG. Did you ever hear of such inhumanity; and yet this woman has lived on board wages, at my expense, for thirty years.
NIGHTINGALE. My dear sir, here’s a very clever friend of mine, who may be of service.
GABBLEWIG. I fear not—I fear not. I’ve tried everything.
SLAP. Perhaps not everything. Pulse very debilitated; great want of coagulum; lymphitic to an alarming degree; stamina weak—decidedly weak.
GABBLEWIG. I don’t want you to tell me that, sir.
SLAP. Crassamentum queer—very queer. No hope, but in mustard and milk.
GABBLEWIG (starting up). Mustard and milk!
ROSINA. Mustard and milk!
SLAP (aside). Is this Captain Blower?
GABBLEWIG (to NIGHTINGALE). Are you, too, a victim! Have you swallowed any of that man-slaughtering compound?
NIGHTINGALE (alarmed). Only a little—a very little.
GABBLEWIG. How do you feel? Dimness of sight—feebleness of limbs?
NIGHTINGALE (alarmed). Not at present.
GABBLEWIG. But you will, sir—you will. You’d never think I once rivalled that person, in rotundity.
ROSINA. But he’ll never do it again; he’ll never do it again.
GABBLEWIG. You’d never think that Madame Tussaud wanted to model my leg, and announce it as an Extraordinary addition!
NIGHTINGALE. I certainly should not have thought it.
GABBLEWIG. She might now put it in the Chamber of Horrors. Look at it!
ROSINA. It’s nothing at all out of the flannel, sir.
GABBLEWIG. All mustard and milk, sir. I’m nothing but mustard and milk!
NIGHTINGALE (seizes SLAP). You scoundrel! And to this state you would have reduced me?
SLAP. O, this is some trick, sir, some cheat of the water doctors.
NIGHTINGALE. Why you won’t tell me that he’s intended as a cheerful example of the effects of cold water?
SLAP. I never said he was—he’s one of the failures; but as two of a trade can never agree, I’ll go somewhere else and spend your guinea.
GABBLEWIG (in his own voice). What a brazen knave! Second knock-down blow to Gabblewig. Betting even. Anybody’s battle. Gabblewig came up smiling and at him again.
NIGHTINGALE (goes to GABBLEWIG). My dear sir, what do I not owe you. (Shakes his hand.)
GABBLEWIG. O, don’t do that, sir. I shall tumble to pieces like a fantoccini figure if you do. I am only hung together by threads.
NIGHTINGALE. But let me know the name of my preserver, that I may enter it in my Diary.
GABBLEWIG. Captain Blower, R. N. (NIGHTINGALE writes.) I’m happy to have rescued you from that quack. I declare the excitement has done me good—Rosi—Mrs. Trusty, I think I can walk now.
ROSINA. That’s right, sir. Lean upon me.
GABBLEWIG. Oh! Oh!
NIGHTINGALE. What’s the matter, Captain Blower?
GABBLEWIG. That’s the milk, sir, Oh!
NIGHTINGALE. Dear me, Captain Blower!
GABBLEWIG. And that’s the mustard, sir.
[Exeunt at door, GABBLEWIG and ROSINA.
NIGHTINGALE. Really, this will be the most eventful day in my Diary, except one,—that day which consigned me to Mrs. Nightingale and twenty years of misery. I’ve not seen her for nineteen; though I have periodical reminders that she is still in the land of the living, in the shape of quarterly payments of twenty-five pounds, clear of income-tax. Well! I’m used to it; and so that I never see her face again, I’m content. I’ll go find Rosina, and tell her what has happened. Quite an escape, I declare.
Enter at door, SUSAN, in bonnet, &c.
SUSAN. What a wicked world this is, to be sure! Everybody seems trying to do the best they can for themselves, and what makes it worse, the complaint seems to be catching; for I’m sure I can’t help telling Mr. Gabblewig what a traitor that Tip is. I hope Mr. G. won’t come in my way, and tempt me. Ah! here he is, and I’m sure I shall fall.
Enter at door GABBLEWIG.
GABBLEWIG. Well, Susan, have you got the certificate?
SUSAN. No, sir, but uncle has, and he’ll be here directly. Oh, sir, if you knew what I’ve heard.
SUSAN. I’m sure you’d give half-a-sovereign to hear. I’m sure you would.
GABBLEWIG. I’m sure I should, and there’s the money.
SUSAN. Well, sir, your man Tip’s a traitor, sir, a conspirator, sir. I overheard him and another one planning some deception. I couldn’t quite make out what, but I know it’s something to deceive Mr. Nightingale.
GABBLEWIG. Find out with all speed what this scheme is about, and let me know. What’s that mountain in petticoats? Slap, or I’m not Gabblewig!
SUSAN. And with him Tip, or I’m not Susan!
GABBLEWIG. Another flash! I guess it all! Susan, your mistress shall instruct you what to do. Vanish, sweet spirit!
[Exeunt GABBLEWIG, R., and SUSAN, L.
Enter at door SLAP in female attire. Looks about cautiously.
SLAP. I hope he’s not gone out. I’ve a presentiment that my good luck is deserting me; but before we do part company, I’ll make a bold dash, and secure something to carry on with. Now, Calomel—I mean Mercury—befriend me. (Rings.)
Enter LITHERS, L.
LITHERS. Did you ring, ma’am?
SLAP. Yes, young man, I wish to speak with a Mr. Nightingale, an elderly gent, who arrived this morning.
LITHERS. What name, ma’am?
SLAP. Name, no consequence; say I come from M’ria.
SLAP. M’ria, a mutual friend of mine and Mr. Nightingale, and one he ought not to be ashamed of.
LITHERS. Yes, ma’am. (Aside.) Mr. Gabblewig’s right.
SLAP. M’ria has been dead these twelve years, during which time my victim has paid her allowance with commendable regularity to me, her only surviving brother! Ah, I thought that name was irresistible, and here he is.
Enter NIGHTINGALE, L., closing door at back.
His trepidation is cheering. He’ll bleed freely; what a lamb it is. (Curtseys as NIGHTINGALE comes down.) Your servant, sir.
NIGHTINGALE. Now don’t lose a moment; you say you come from Maria. What Maria?
SLAP. Your Maria.
NIGHTINGALE. I am sorry to acknowledge the responsibility.
SLAP. Ah, sir; that poor creature’s much changed, sir.
NIGHTINGALE. For the worse, of course.
SLAP. I’m afraid so. No gin now, sir.
NIGHTINGALE. Then it’s brandy.
SLAP. Lives on it, sir, and breaks more windows than ever. She’s heard that you’ve come down here.
NIGHTINGALE. So I suppose, by this visit.
SLAP. She lives about a mile from Malvern.
NIGHTINGALE (starts). What? I thought she was down in Yorkshire.
SLAP. Was and is, is two different things. She wanted for to come and see you.
NIGHTINGALE. If she does, I’ll stop her allowance.
SLAP. And have her call every day? M’ria’s my friend, but I know that wouldn’t be pleasant. She’d a proposal to make, so M’ria says I—I’ll see your lawful husband—as you is, sir, and propose for you.
NIGHTINGALE. I’ll listen to nothing.
SLAP. Not if it puts the sad sea waves between you and M’ria for ever.
NIGHTINGALE (interested). Eh!
SLAP. You know she’d a brother, an excellent young man, who went to America ten years ago.
NIGHTINGALE (takes out Diary). I know. (Reads aside.) ‘16th of May, 1841, sent fifty pounds to Mrs. N.’s vagabond brother, going to America—qy., to the devil?’
SLAP. He has written to M’ria to say that if you’ll give her Two hundred pounds, and she’ll come out, he’ll take care of her for ever.
NIGHTINGALE. Done!—It’s a bargain.
SLAP. He bites!—and her son for a hundred more.
NIGHTINGALE. What son?
SLAP. Ah, sir! you don’t know your blessings. Shortly after you and M’ria separated, a son was born; but M’ria, to revenge herself—which was wrong; oh, it was wrong in her, that was!—never let you know it; but sent him to the Work’us, as a fondling she had received in a basket.
NIGHTINGALE. I don’t believe a word of it.
SLAP. She said you wouldn’t. But seeing is believing; and so I’ve brought the innocent along with me. I’ve got the Pretty, here.
NIGHTINGALE. Here! in your pocket?
SLAP. No—at the door. (They rise.)
NIGHTINGALE. At the door!
SLAP. Come in, Christopher! Named after you, sir! for in spite of M’ria’s feelings, you divided her heart with Old Tom.
Enter at door TIP, as a Charity Boy.
NIGHTINGALE. O nonsense!
SLAP. Christopher, behold your Par! (Boxes him.) What do you stand there for, like a eight-day clock or a idol; as if Pars was found every day.
TIP (aside). Don’t you make me nervous. (Aloud.) And is that my Par!
SLAP. Yes, child. Me, who took you from the month, can vouch for it.
TIP. Oh, Par!
NIGHTINGALE. Keep off, you young yellow-hammer; or I’ll knock you down. Harkee, ma’am! If you can assure me of the departure of your friend and this cub, I will give the money! For twenty years, I have been haunted by—
Enter GABBLEWIG at door, disguised as Old Woman.
GABBLEWIG. Which the blessed innocent has been invaygled off, and man-trapped—leastways, boy-trapped—and never no more will I leave this ’ouse, until I find a parent’s ’ope—a mother’s pride—and nobody’s (as I’m aweer on) joy!
NIGHTINGALE and SUSAN place Chair.
SLAP (aside). What on earth is this! Who is a mother’s pride and nobody’s joy? (To TIP.) You don’t mean to say you are?
TIP (solemnly). I’m a horphan. (Goes up to GABBLEWIG.) What are talking about, you old Beldam?
GABBLEWIG. Oh! (screaming and throwing her arms about his neck)—my ’ope!—my pride!—my son!
TIP (struggling). Your son!
GABBLEWIG (aside to him). If you don’t own me for your mother, you villain, on the spot, I’ll break every bone in your skin, and have your skin prepared afterwards, by the Bermondsey tanners!
TIP (aside). My master!—(Aloud.) My mother! (They embrace.)
SLAP. Are you mad? Am I mad? Are we all mad? (To TIP.) Didn’t you tell me that whatever I said—
TIP. You said? What is your voice to the voice of Natur? (Embraces his master again.)
SLAP. Natur! Natur! Ah-h-h! (Screams. Chair brought.) Oh, you unnat’ral monster! Who see your first tooth dawn on a deceitful world? Who watched you running alone in a go-cart, and tipping over on your precious head upon the paving-stones in the confidence of childhood? Who give you the medicine that reduced you when you was sick, and made you so when you wasn’t?
GABBLEWIG (rising). Who? Me!
SLAP. You, ma’am?
GABBLEWIG. Me, ma’am, as is well beknown to all the country round, which the name of this sweetest of babbies as was giv to his own joyful self when blessed in best Whitechapel mixed upon a pincushen, and mother saved likewise, was Absalom. Arter his own parential father, as never (otherwise than through being bad in liquor) lost a day’s work in the wheelwright business, which it was but limited, Mr. Nightingale, being wheels of donkey shays and goats, and one was even drawed by geese for a wager, and went right into the centre aisle of the parish church on a Sunday morning, on account of obstinacy of the animals, as can be certified by Mr. Wigs the beadle afore he died of drawing on his Wellington boots, to which he was not accustomed, arter a hearty meal of beef and walnuts, to which he was too parshal, and in the marble fountain of that church this preciousest of infants was made Absolom, which never can be unmade no more, I am proud to say, to please or give offence to no one nowheres and nohows.
SLAP. Would you forswear your blessed mother, M’ria Nightingale, lawful wedded wife of this excellent old gent? Why don’t the voice of Natur claim its par?
NIGHTINGALE. Oh, don’t make me a consideration on any account!
GABBLEWIG. M’ria Nightingale, which affliction sore long time she bore—
NIGHTINGALE. And so did I.
GABBLEWIG. Physicians was in vain—which she never had none particklar as I knows of, exceptin one which she tore his hair by handfulls out in consequence of differences of opinion relative to her complaint, but it was wrote upon her tombstone ten year and more ago, and dead she is as the hosts of the Egyptian Fairies.
NIGHTINGALE. Dead! Prove it, and I’ll give you fifty pounds.
SLAP. Prove it! I defies her. (Aside.) I’m done!
GABBLEWIG. Prove it!—which I can and will, directly minit, by my brother the sexton, as I will here produce in the twinkling of a star or human eye. (Aside.) From this period of the contest, Gabblewig had it all his own way, and went in and won. No money was laid out, at any price, on Flormiville. Fifty to one on Gabblewig freely offered, and no takers.
[Exit at door.
SLAP (aside). I don’t like this—so exit Slap!
NIGHTINGALE (seizing him). No, ma’am, you don’t leave this place ’till the mystery is cleared up.
SLAP. Unhand me, monster! I claims my habeas corpus. (Breaks from him, NIGHTINGALE goes to the door, and prepares to defend the pass with a chair.) (To TIP.) As for you, traitor, though I’m not pugnacious, I’ll give you a lesson in the art of self-defence you shall remember as long as you live.
TIP. You! The bottle imp as has been my ruin! Reduce yourself to my weight, and I’ll fight you for a pound. (Squares.)
GABBLEWIG (without). I’ll soon satisfy the gentleman.
SLAP. Then I’m done! very much done! I see nothing before me but premature incarceration, and an old age of gruel.
Enter GABBLEWIG at door, as Sexton.
NIGHTINGALE. He’s very old! My invaluable centenarian, will you allow me to enquire—
GABBLEWIG. I don’t hear you.
NIGHTINGALE. He’s very deaf! (Aloud.) Will you allow me to enquire—
GABBLEWIG. It’s o’ no use whispering to me, sir, I’m hard o’ hearing.
NIGHTINGALE. He’s very provoking! (Louder.) Whether you ever buried—
GABBLEWIG. Brewed? Yes, yes, I brewed—that is, me and my wife, as has been dead and gone now, this forty year, next hop-picking (my wife was a Kentish woman)—we brewed, especially one year, the strongest beer ever you drunk. It was called in our country, Samson with his hair on—alluding to its great strength, you understand—and my wife, she said—
NIGHTINGALE (very loud). Buried—not brewed!
GABBLEWIG. Buried? O! Ah! Yes, yes. Buried a many. They was strong, too—once.
NIGHTINGALE. Did you ever bury a Mrs. Nightingale?
GABBLEWIG. Ever bury a Nightingale? No, no. Only Christians.
NIGHTINGALE (in his ear). Missis—Mis—sis Nightingale?
GABBLEWIG. O! Yes, yes. Buried her—rather a fine woman—married (as the folks told me) an uncommon ugly man. Yes, yes. Used to live here. Here (taking out pocket-book) is the certificate of her burial. (Gives it.) I got it for my sister. O yes! Buried her. I thought you meant a Nightingale. Ha, ha, ha!
NIGHTINGALE. My dear friend there’s a guinea, and it’s cheap for the money. (Gives it.)
GABBLEWIG. I thank’ee, sir, I thank’ee. (Aside.) Flormiville heavily grassed, and, a thousand to one on Gabblewig!
[Exit at door.
NIGHTINGALE (after reading certificate). You—you—inexpressible swindler. If you were not a woman I’d have you ducked in the horse-pond.
TIP (on his knees). O, sir, do it. He deserves it.
TIP. Yes, sir. She’s a he. He deluded me with a glass of rum and water, and the promise of a five pound note.
NIGHTINGALE. You scoundrel!
SLAP. Sir, you are welcome to your own opinion. I am not the first man who has failed in a great endeavour. Napoleon had his Waterloo—Slap has his Malvern. Henceforth, I am nobody. The eagle retires to his rock.
Enter GABBLEWIG at door, in his own dress.
GABBLEWIG. You had better stop here. Be content with plain Slap—discard counterfeit Flormiville—and we’ll do something for you.
SLAP. Mr. Gabblewig!
[Exit at door.
GABBLEWIG. Charley Bit, Mr. Poulter, Captain Blower, respectable female, and deaf sexton, all equally at anybody’s service.
NIGHTINGALE. What do I hear?
NIGHTINGALE. And what do I see?
ROSINA (entering at door). Me! Dear uncle, you would have been imposed upon, and plundered, and made even worse than you ever made yourself, but for—
GABBLEWIG. Me. My dear Mr. Nightingale, you did think I could do nothing but talk. If you now think I can act—a little—let me come out in a new character. (Embracing ROSINA.) Will you?
NIGHTINGALE. Will I? Take her, Mr. Gabblewig. Stop, though. Ought I to give away what has made me so unhappy? Memorandum—Mrs. Nightingale. See Diary. (Takes out book.)
GABBLEWIG. Stop, sir! Don’t look! Burn that book, and be happy!—(Brings on SLAP, at door.) Ask your doctor. What do you say, Mustard-and-Milk?
SLAP. I say, sir, try me; and when you find I am not worth a trial, don’t try me any more. As to that gentleman’s destroying his Diary, sir, my opinion is that he might perhaps refer to it once again.
GABBLEWIG (to audience). Shall he refer to it once more? (To NIGHTINGALE.) Well, I think you may.
As noted in the Foreword, Mr. Nightingale’s Diary was originally a after-piece to Not so Bad as we Seem. One of the actors in the cast of the centrepiece was Richard Henry or Hengist Horne (1803-1884), a poet, journalist, and adventurer; he had been a contributor to Bentley’s Miscellany, and at about this time was a sub-editor on Dickens’s Household Words. Horne had been a member of the Children’s Employment Commission (1842), and its reports had been an inspiration for A Christmas Carol. Additionally, Horne’s HW short story “Dust; or Ugliness Redeemed” (1850) was to be some kind of precursor or early version of Our Mutual Friend. For the Gentleman’s Magazine (1871), Horne wrote two long articles about the two Guild plays, covering staging, costume, props, audience reaction, stage fluffs, cast parties, and every aspect of their production. Both are relevant to Mr. Nightingale’s Diary, and are reprinted in their entirety below. Some readers way wish to jump ahead to the second article, which specifically details Diary.
There are some errors in the Horne articles. Discrepancies between the text of Diary and in Horne can be explained in some part in that, as detailed below, the performance of Diary varied widely with improvisation, and the articles give us a glimpse of just such ad libs. But this aside, Horne’s memory misleads him on other points. Most noticeably, the premiere of Not so Bad as we Seem was given before Victoria and Albert—but Diary was not played that night. Mr. Nightingale’s Diary premiered the second night, and the Queen was not present. This and some other problems are detailed in the Historian’s Note after the articles.
THE GUILD OF LITERATURE AND ART.
[by R.H. Horne]
1.—NOT SO BAD AS WE SEEM.
THE Guild of Literature and Art, which commenced with the highest prospects of success, was founded (though the idea had been originated years before by the present writer*) by Lytton Bulwer and Charles Dickens. The former proposed to give land upon one of his estates for the erection of a college, and to write a comedy, to be acted with a view to raising a preliminary fund in aid of the object; and in the first instances the performers were to be celebrated authors and artists. All this was undertaken by Dickens, and the following friends. The artists who were engaged on Bulwer’s comedy of “Not so Bad as we Seem, or Many Sides to a Character,” were Daniel Maclise, R.A., Clarkson Stanfield, R.A., John Leech, Augustus Egg, R.A., Mr. Topham, Mr. Frank Stone, and Mr. Tenniel. The authors were Charles Dickens, Mark Lemon, Dudley Costello, Robert Bell, Douglas Jerrold, Charles Knight, John Forster (all gone!), and myself. Wilkie Collins and two or three others were engaged in subsequent performances; but the above list comprises, I think, all who appeared when the play was represented at Devonshire House. The stage architect and machinist was Sir Joseph Paxton; and to his name among the “past and gone” we have to add that of our kind and munificent patron, the late Duke of Devonshire.
The Duke gave us the use of his large picture gallery, to be fitted up with seats for the audience; and his library adjoining for the erection of the theatre. The latter room being larger than required for the stage and its scenery, the back portion of it was screened off for a “green room.” Sir Joseph Paxton was most careful in the erection of the theatre and seats. There was a special box for the Queen. None of the valuable paintings in the picture gallery (arranged for the auditorium) were removed, but all were faced with planks, and covered with crimson velvet draperies; not a nail was allowed to be hammered into the floor or walls, the lateral supports being by the pressure from end to end, of padded beams; and the uprights, or stanchions, were fitted with iron feet, firmly fixed to the floor by copper screws. The lamps and their oil were well considered, so that the smoke should not be offensive or injurious—even the oil being slightly scented—and there was a profusion of wax candles. Sir Joseph Paxton also arranged the ventilation in the most skilful manner; and with some assistance from a theatrical machinist, he put up all the scenes, curtains, and flies. Dickens was unanimously chosen general manager, and Mark Lemon stage manager. We had a professional gentleman for prompter, as none of the amateurs could be entrusted with so technical, ticklish, and momentous a duty.
Never in the world of theatres was a better manager than Charles Dickens. Without, of course, questioning the superiority of Goethe (in the Weimar theatre) as a manager in all matters of high-class dramatic literature, one cannot think he could have been so excellent in all general requirements, stage effects, and practical details. Equally assiduous and unwearying as Dickens, surely very few men ever were, or could possibly be. He appeared almost ubiquitous and sleepless. We had, I think, thirteen rehearsals, six or seven even after everybody knew his part.
Nothing could surpass the princely munificence of the Duke throughout, unless, indeed, it were his delicate consideration for the feelings of all engaged in the matter. The gates of Devonshire House were opened to our hackneys and cabriolets with all the usual ceremonies of porters and footmen. A cold collation comprising every delicacy in and out of season, with the choicest wines, was always served for the “company,” behind whose chairs the Duke’s footmen stood in full livery; and at most of those twelve or thirteen luxurious déjeûners à la fourchette, his Grace sat down with us, apologising for the state of his health, which limited him to a very spare indulgence.
The principal scenes were painted by Clarkson Stanfield; others were the work of Maclise; besides which, Egg, as well as Topham and Tenniel, gave frequent assistance, and were all continually on the stage during the touching up and arrangement of the scenery.
Planché was consulted about the costumes; and it was agreed that the wigs and “make-up” of faces should be as characteristic as possible. One military “character,” not considering himself sufficiently tall for the part, had a pair of thigh boots made with cork heels four inches high.
Several amusing incidents occurred in the course of the rehearsals. The first was during the preparation of the scenic arrangements, some alteration in which was required. Sir Joseph Paxton gave his directions, and went away for a time. The hour for rehearsal had not yet come, and we were conning our parts in the green-room. Meanwhile, a tall elderly gentleman, very plainly dressed in a suit of what looked like rather rusty black, had got upon the stage, and was lurking among the wings, now in one place, now in another, with an amiable smile upon his countenance, denoting the interest he took in the proceedings. The heavy roller of a scene was being hoisted, and the tall gentleman in black became confused as to his whereabouts. “Now, sir!” exclaimed a voice, “keep out of the way, if you don’t want to get your back broke!” The elderly gentleman apologised with a deprecating bow, and immediately retired. “Who was that?” somebody inquired: but nobody on the stage at that moment knew. It was the Duke! The direful contretemps was speedily put to rights by the tact of our manager, and was the source of much amusement to the amiable nobleman, who warmly and humorously expressed his thanks for the timely warning.
Another incident may serve as material for some curious speculations as to the force of imagination, and the sympathy between our visual and olfactory organs. Colonel Flint, of the Guards,* a bully and duellist, described in the dramatis personæ as a “fire-eater,” was to stand with his back to the red glowing chimney-piece in “Will’s Coffee House.” The period is that of George the First, when it was fashionable for bloods and bucks to smoke long pipes, designated as a “yard of clay.” With such a pipe Colonel Flint had duly provided himself for rehearsal; and to make his stage-business more perfect, soft-rolling clouds of smoke began to issue from the bowl, and float over the once famous coffee-room. Up came the manager, speaking quickly, “My dear Horne, on no account attempt to smoke! The Queen detests tobacco, and would leave the box immediately.”
“But there’s no tobacco in the pipe!” replied the Colonel.
“Look here!”—and the Colonel took out of his waistcoat pocket a handful of dried herbs. “I got them in Covent Garden market this morning on the way to rehearsal.”
“Well—we smelt tobacco the moment we came within sight of the stage,” said Dickens: “the pipe must be foul.”
“It is quite a new pipe!”
Mark Lemon now came up, protesting that he also had smelt tobacco, and that the pipe must have been an old one re-burnt to look clean; so the offending clay was flung aside.
Before the next rehearsal, another pipe, warranted new and pure, was obtained, besides which it was placed in the fire, and kept there at white heat long enough to purify it ten times over, even had it been one of the unclean. Again the cloud began to unfold its volumes over “Will’s Coffee-room;” and this time Sir Joseph Paxton came running from the seats in the front to the stage, declaring that smoking must really not be attempted, the Queen so detested the smell of tobacco. Once again the Colonel protested the innocence of his pipe, in proof of which he produced a handful of dried thyme and rose-leaves from his waistcoast pocket. In vain. Sir Joseph insisted that he had smelt tobacco!—“They all smelt it!” So his second yard of clay was sent to shivers.
But the Colonel had chanced to see Siborne’s “Model of the Battle of Waterloo,” in which the various miniature platoons of infantry, as well as the brigades of artillery, were supposed to be firing volleys, the clouds and wreaths of smoke being capital imitations composed of extremely fine and thinly drawn out webs of cotton, supported on rings and long twirls of almost invisible wire, and attached at one end to the mouths and muzzles of the miniature cannon and musketry. This model for a triumph in the art of smoking a pipe in the presence of a Queen who abhorred tobacco, was now adopted by Colonel Flint, but held in reserve for the morning rehearsal of the full-dress rehearsal of the same night, when there would be a preliminary audience.
He ventured to flatter himself that all these delicate considerations would be much applauded both by the accomplished author and the management. Far from it. No sooner was the cloud of apparent smoke perceived to issue from the pipe, than the manager, stage-manager, and Sir Joseph Paxton hurried together to the assiduous guardsman, begging him on no account to persist in this smoking!—this smoke—or this (on examining the smoke) appearance of smoking. It would be most injudicious. Her Majesty would think she smelt tobacco, and this would be as bad as if Her Majesty really smelt it; at the same time, they added, collectively, that they had themselves had smelt tobacco, no matter from what source, or what cause! Of course there was an end of the matter; and the discomfited “fire-eater” of the comedy did the best he could to bully the company in “Will’s Coffee-room” with his empty-bowled and immaculate yard of clay. These minute details serve to show the pains that were taken even with the slightest parts of this performance; pains worthy of the Comédie Française.
At the full-dress rehearsal, the audience was composed exclusively of the relatives, friends, and acquaintance of the Duke of Devonshire, and of the authors and artists engaged in the performance. All went well, and the “first night” was announced. The tickets were five guineas each, and Her Majesty sent a hundred guineas for her box. This night went off most satisfactorily. Only one little accident occurred. Every gentleman of the period, of any rank, wore a sword; the manager, therefore, intimated that as our stage was small, and would be nearly filled up with side tables and tables in front, in the conspiracy scene in “Will’s Coffee House,” it would be prudent and important that the swords of the dramatis personæ should be most carefully considered in passing down the centre, and round one of the tables in front. At this table sat the Duke of Middlesex (Frank Stone) and the Earl of Loftus (Dudley Costello), in a private and high-treasonous conversation. On the table were decanters, glasses, plates of fruit, etc. At the other table, in front, sat Mr. David Fallen (Augustus Egg), the half-starved Grub Street author and political pamphleteer, with some bread and cheese, and a little mug of ale. The eventful moment came, when Mr. Shadowly Softhead (Douglas Jerrold), Colonel Flint, and others, had to pass down the narrow space in the middle of the stage, to be presented to the Duke of Middlesex, and then, as there was not room enough to enable them to turn about and retire up the stage, each one was to pass round the corner of the table, and make his exit at the left first entrance. This was done by all with safety, and reasonably good grace, except by one gentleman, who shall not be named; as he rose from his courtly bowing to advance and pass round, the tip of his jutting-out sword went rigidly across the surface of the table, and swept off the whole of the “properties” and realities! Decanters, glasses, grapes, a pine-apple, a painted pound cake, and several fine wooden peaches, rolled pell-mell upon the stage, and, as usual, made for the footlights. A considerable “sensation” passed over the audience; amidst which the Queen (to judge by the shaking of the handkerchief in front of the royal face) by no means remained unmoved. But Dickens, who, as Lord Wilmot, happened to be close in front, with admirable promptitude and tact, called out with a jaunty air of command, “Here, drawer! come and clear away this wreck!” as though the disaster had been a part of the business of the scene, while the others on the stage so well managed their bye-play that many of the audience were in some doubt about the accident. When inquiry was instituted as to the culprit on this occasion, as every one of the “Guild” protested his innocence of the awkward fact, it was presently discovered that the guilty individual was a supernumerary lord for that scene, enacted by a gentleman who was one of the Duke’s suite.
Two other amusing incidents occurred. A number of bedrooms had been placed at our disposal for dressing-rooms. A certain gentleman of the “company” (the portly and genial Mark Lemon it was whispered) had been somewhat too long over the buttoning of a long-flapped and stiffly embroidered waistcoat, and the call-boy had been sent upstairs a second time from the prompter below, to inform him that the stage would immediately be “waiting” for him. Away ran the boy and vanished round a corner. In his haste, the “character” in question took a wrong turn, and hurried down a steep flight of stairs, and then down another flight, presently finding that he was close upon the kitchens. Up he rushed again, and scuttled along the gallery, till he turned into a still longer gallery, well lighted, but vacant and hopeless. Once more he made a turn, now wild with the thought of the stage being kept waiting, and seeing a tall, dark figure passing the further end, he rushed towards it—wigged, powdered, buckled, ruffled, perspiring, maddened, and gasping out, “Where—where’s the stage?” He was barely able to recognise the Duke who with a delightful urbanity at once put him upon his right course.
miscalculation of time occurred, in consequence of Sir Joseph Paxton remarking
in the green-room, just after the conclusion of the performance, that he had
arranged the Queen’s chair in the supper-room in a peculiar manner, with exotic
and other rare flowers, which had arrived that evening fresh from the Duke’s
gardens at Chiswick and Chatsworth. Colonel Flint hearing this, requested
permission to see the floral throne, before Her Majesty’s entrance to the
supper-room. “By all means,” said Sir Joseph, “but you must be very quick.”
Away hurried the applicant, and was speedily in the supper-room, and made his
way, his stage costume notwithstanding, through a number of gentlemen in
waiting, officers attired in a very different sort of uniform, footmen, etc.,
to their no small surprise and amusement. But the sight well rewarded the
At the top of the table and furthest from the door, there was a richly-carved and cushioned chair, raised a few inches above the other chairs. It had large padded arms of figured satin and velvet, and a high back with a carved gothic arch at the top. Very little of the chair could be clearly seen, and its outline was only indicated here and there. The whole of the back was devoted to roses red and white, chiefly for their odour, mingled with magnolias, jasmine, honeysuckle, and tuberoses; but the high arch and sides of the chair were overhung with festoons and long dripping falls and tangles of the most lovely orchidaceous and other exotic plants, and by fine trickling tendrils and dangling lines, bearing little starry-flowers, and very minute and curiously-striped leaves, leaflets, and tiny fairy buds; some of the creepers displaying little flowers and leaves that resembled a sort of floral jewellery. At the top of the arched chair back, there was a large night-flowering ceres, of most delicious and recondite perfume. (No wonder Sir Joseph was alarmed at tobacco!) The predominating colours were snow-white and apple-green, with a little soft azure, and a few scarlet buds, and here and there a dark Tuscany rose or two for shadows; the whole having been carefully selected and arranged by Sir Joseph as a suitable background for the dress worn by Her Majesty on this, we may say unprecedented occasion. An imitation of dewdrops was achieved to a degree of perfect illusion, by means of opals and glass as it seemed; a piece of refined ingenuity which was about to undergo a close inspection by Flint, when suddenly it was announced that the Queen was approaching the supper-room! Instantly the awakened Colonel made a dash for the open door, but only to encounter the bowing backs and elegant embroidered coat-tails of gentlemen and lords in waiting, who were ushering in Her Majesty! There was nothing for it but to spring aside, and range in line with the officers and gentlemen in attendance, and to “stand attention” as if on grand parade. He trusted, in the confusion of the moment, that his guardsman’s uniform of the time of George I., notwithstanding the polished thigh boots and towering powdered wig, would not be observed by the Queen, with Prince Albert, the Duke, and suite attending, or following. Vain hope! The gleaming glances that passed told all; and with long rapid strides, the instant Her Majesty was seated, the anachronismic uniform made its exit at the rear of the line in which it had so unseasonably appeared en militaire.
In “Will’s Coffee-room,” there was a fire-place at the remote end, where the semblance of a fire was burning brightly. This was effected by the painted transparency of a fire, with a large lamp close to it behind the scene. As Colonel Flint was standing before the fire-place smoking his “yard of clay,” a certain gentleman, who was rather late in his dressing, and who ought to have been ready to enter on the other side, rushed by so flurriedly that he thrust the lamp aslant against the scene. The glass was broken, and the flame caught the scene, which at once took fire. Smoke and tumult were just commencing, when Mark Lemon and Dickens simultaneously rushed upon the stage, caught up a thick overcoat, which was flung upon the rising flames, then both jumped upon it, and, without being aware of their excited performance, literally danced up and down together upon the smothered flames and the smashed lamp. Certainly nobody laughed. It was anything but a laughing moment, remembering where it occurred and who was present. Of course it was prudently hushed up.
After the performance, and before leaving the box, Her Majesty had sent to the manager to express her gratification, coupled with the remark, “They act very well indeed.” This was duly announced to the company, when assembled for supper, and was received with great satisfaction, but Dickens went on, drily adding,—“But the Queen is very kind—and was sure to say that;”—which very much straightened the complaisant faces round the table till they laughed at each other. Nevertheless, a few more words may be said on the subject. They really did act well; some very well. When it is remembered the studious sort of men they all were, and the time, together with the great pains, bestowed in all respects,—why not? The principal character, as matter of elocution, was that of Hardman, and the gentleman personating this rising young statesman was unquestionably one of the best private readers of the day. Then, as to acting, most of the company were practised amateurs long before this event, more especially Douglas Jerrold and Mark Lemon, who, in parts that suited them, were first-rate actors, almost equal to Dickens. The two latter were matchless in the after-piece, but the parts they played in the comedy were not in accordance with their peculiar talents. It has been said that Mr. Dickens, in private life, had very much the appearance of a seafaring man. This is quite true; and his long daily walks about London and the environs, or at the sea-side, caused him to have a very sun-burnt weather-beaten face. His full-length portrait might readily be mistaken for the captain of an East Indiaman, if truthfully painted. But the character and costume of “Lord Wilmot, a young man at the head of the Mode, more than a century ago,” did not suit him. His bearing on the stage, and the tone of his voice, were too rigid, hard, and quarter-deck-like, for such “rank and fashion,” and his make-up, with the three-cornered gold-laced cocked-hat, black-curled wig, huge sleeve-cuffs, long flapped waistcoat, knee-breeches and great shoe-buckles, were not carried off with the proper air; so that he would have made a good portrait of a captain of a Dutch privateer,* after having taken a capital prize. When he shouted in praise of the wine of Burgundy, it far rather suggested fine kegs of Schiedam. It was in “Mr. Nightingale’s Diary,” which followed, that he was inimitable. The late Miss Mitford, being present at the performance of this some time afterwards, pronounced certain parts of his acting in this piece wonderful. Neither can it be said that Mark Lemon was quite at home in his part in the comedy,—viz., that of “Sir Geoffrey Thornside, a gentleman of good family and estate.” He looked far more like a burly wealthy Yorkshire brewer, who had retired upon something handsome. In the afterpiece he could hardly have been surpassed. Yet both the last-named parts in the comedy were fairly acted. Jerrold also (a capital actor in certain parts) was hardly in his right element. His head and face were a good illustration of the saying that most people are like one or another of our “dumb fellow creatures,” for he certainly had a remarkable resemblance to a lion, chiefly for his very large, clear, round, undaunted, straightforward-looking eyes; the structure of the forehead; and his rough, unkempt, uplifted flourish of tawny hair. It was difficult to make such a face look like the foolish, half-scared, country gentleman, Mr. Shadowly Softhead; but he enacted the part very well, notwithstanding. As a contrast to these, Mr. Frank Stone, the painter, presented a very grave, tall, stately full-length of the proud Duke of Middlesex, whose dignity was astonished at his wife daring to take “such a liberty” as to give him a kiss; while the Earl Loftus of Dudley Costello was far too elegant for a nobleman of the court of George I., and rather resembled a highly polished French marquis of the age of Louis Quatorze. The make-up of Egg as David Fallen, the Grub Street author, etc., was such as only a fine painter could well have effected. Intellectual and refined amidst his seedy clothing; resentful of his hard lot, yet saddened by disappointment and semi-starvation, his thoughts appearing to oscillate between independence of character, his political hiring, and his hungry family in their miserable attic; such a countenance was presented as the stage had seldom seen, and is very unlikely to see again, except at rare and exceptional intervals. The Irish landlord of Mr. Fallen (Paddy O’Sullivan) was represented to perfection by Robert Bell, whose gigantic stature, long frieze coat, little bit of a hat, ragged-red wig, and highly-painted smiling visage (reminding one of the Sompnour in the “Canterbury Tales”) gave a picture that even surpassed the effect of the rich brogue in which he blurted out the few words allotted to him. The minor parts, however, of this play have all been reduced to mere shreds in the acting copies since published. No professional actors would be at all likely to take such pains with them as were exhibited on this occasion.
II. MR. NIGHTINGALE’S DIARY
THIS very amusing production was written for the afterpiece to Lord Lytton’s comedy of “Not so Bad as we Seem; or, Many Sides to a Character,” and was enacted for the first time at Devonshire House, on the night which inaugurated the series of amateur performances. It was never published, and a few copies only were printed and circulated among the members of the “Guild.” But, like the possessors, they have all drifted away on the surges of time, and whoever would revert to the piece has very little chance of getting any copy, or fragment of a copy, to assist his memory.
The plot was so slight as scarcely to merit the name, but the principal characters were of a kind never to be forgotten. These were eleven in number; Mark Lemon personated three, Dickens five, and Augustus Egg, R.A., one—and a very remarkable one it was. The remaining characters are of little moment, and, in truth, we forget who played Mr. Nightingale. Her Majesty and suite, having retired for some refreshment after the performance of the comedy, had returned to their places. The Duke was “all smiles” at our success thus far. It was delightful to see any man so happy. And with regard to the audience, nearly all of whom were members of the highest circles as to rank, and also (at any rate in the eyes of Douglas Jerrold, who repeatedly declared it aloud behind the scenes), as to female beauty, most truly might it be said, that they all came pour assister on our all important first night, and constituted, therefore, the best audience that could be desired.
The piece opened with the entrance of Mark Lemon, dressed as a German student, travelling after the manner of Wilhelm Meister on his “art-apprenticeship.” The scene, however, was the private parlour of an English country inn; and it was at once discovered that the apparent student was a strolling player who had adopted that disguise in order to practise the not very uncommon, yet by no means easy, art of “living by his wits.” Mark’s portly figure was covered with a nankeen summer blouse, having a broad leather belt round the waist, or the place where a waist should be; and on his head he wore a German cap with a great peak, which did but little to shade his large, round, sunbrowned, smiling face. On his first entrance he gave the effect of an overgrown schoolboy; but when he came close down to the lamps it was evident that he was a fully developed rogue. He wore travelling boots; a German quersack, or leather wallet, dangled from his belt, and he carried an unmistakable English carpet-bag, which he rapidly, and rather furtively, deposited under a table on one side of the room.
He now made a brief soliloquy, with a richly humorous expression of countenance, to the following effect:—“He was not at present a member of a company of strolling players, but he kept better company—to wit, his own—and he was now strolling, not to please others by playing for them, but to play upon them to please himself; and the more they paid the better he was pleased; them was his sentiments. But, at the present moment, unfortunately, he was quite out of cash, and, as was sure to happen when he was penniless, he felt more than usually hungry. For this reason he had naturally entered an inn, as the proper place for satisfying hunger; and when that sacred duty had been performed, he would consider by what means the bill was to be paid. Could any man do more?”
So saying, he seated himself at a side-table, and after running over an imaginary larder, he resolved on ordering a good dinner, and forthwith rang the bell. As no waiter made an appearance, he rang again vigorously; and yet a third time he had to ring. The individual who then entered was greeted with a round of smiles, as well as general applause. Of course all recognised Sam Weller, and Dickens as the impersonator.
“Are you the waiter, or the groom, or what—of this inn?” demanded the German student, affecting rather a high air.
“Well, sir,” said Sam, “I’m a half-waiter, and a sort of a half-boot.”
“Ah—indeed. This seems rather a humble kind of an inn, my man. Is there any corn in Egypt?”
“Don’t know, sir, but we’ve got some here—quite enough for any ’orse you may ’ire for the day.”
“Ahem! You misunderstand me, young man; I am the horse inquiring for corn. What’s the state of the larder, eh?”
“Well, sir, there’s the not werry shapely remains of a round o’ boiled beef, as was ’ot the day afore yesterday; and there’s the back and drumsticks of a seasonable old goose; and—and—why, Jemmy,—Jemmy Daddleham, is that you? I thought I know’d you!”
It turns out that Sam Weller, at one time a member of a company of strolling players, recognises in the German student Mr. James Daddleham, the leading tragedian of that company. Sam quickly disappears, in order to bring some refreshment for the famishing “star,” who falls into a train of sentimental absurdity during his absence.
Some of the characters in this laughable piece had no names given to them, and others had names liable to be changed with every representation; and as for the dialogue, it was never twice alike, the two principals understanding each other well enough to extemporise wherever they had a fancy to do so. Consequently, the printed copies (whenever a straggler may be discovered) will contain very little of what was said by these two humourists and amateurs.
Sam Weller speedily returns, bringing with him a tray. He spreads the cloth on the little side-table, and “in no time” it is seen covered with beef and bread, bottles and plates, and a couple of tankards. This done, Sam seats himself at the table, opposite the eminent tragedian, who falls to with every demonstration of hunger and delight. Eating heartily, and drinking to match, always gives great pleasure to a British audience; and this most refined of audiences proved no exception. While the “star” was recruiting, Sam contented himself by responding to friendly pledges with the tankard, and by various amusing references to their strolling days, and to the characters impersonated by the “world-renowned” Mr. Daddleham, especially some of his tragic parts, concerning which Sam alternately flattered him with preposterous compliments, and startled him by equivocal commentaries. For instance:—
“O, sir,” said Sam, “what a ’Amlet yourn was! Shall we ever again see sich a ’Amlet”
“You think it was good, do you, Sam?”
“Good, sir! good’s no word for it.”
“Ah!” said Mr. Daddleham, with affected modesty, laying down his knife and fork, and looking sentimentally at his portly corporation; “yes, Sam; I think there was something in my Hamlet.”
“Yes, and something of you, too, sir.”
This ridiculous compliment to his unsuitable figure of course upset the previous eulogy. The conversation then dropped into melodrama, and Sam referred to a certain piece in which they had fought a dreadful combat together in a wood. This enlivening recollection induced a mutual draught from the foaming tankard; and Sam, exclaiming, “Ah, those wos the days, sir—them wos!” regretted they could not fight that celebrated combat again. Hereupon Mr. Daddleham informed Sam that it could very easily be fought again.
“When, sir?” said Sam, eagerly.
“Where the place, sir?”
“Not ‘upon the heath,’ but on these very boards.”
“Yes, these, Sam. Behold yonder carpet bag, there!”
“Ha! under the table! I see it all. That bag contains—”
“It does—it does! all the theatrical properties now left me by invidious fate.”
The eminent incog. now rushed across to his carpet bag, and from it hurriedly extracted two melodramatic short swords. Sam eagerly seized one of these weapons, and a sanguinary combat of the unique old school of popular melodrama at once commenced, in process of which every outrageous and ridiculous stage business of that class was carried to the utmost perfection. First, they prowled round and round each other—now darting in, very nearly, and as suddenly starting back; next a passing cut is exchanged, then two or three cuts, the swords emitting sparks, and the combatants uttering strange guttural sounds, breathing hard, and showing their teeth at each other like hungry wolves. At last they close, and strike and parry to a regular measured time, till gradually you find they are beating a sort of time very like the one known as “Lodoiska” in the “Lancer Quadrilles.” After this they strike at the calves of each other’s legs by alternate back stroke and parry, and then Sam springs upon Mr. Daddleham’s left hip, and deals a succession of blows downwards at his head, all parried, of course, with ludicrous precision. Finally, the sword of Sam is passed under one of his antagonist’s arms, who thereupon exhibits the agonies of being run through the body, but nevertheless comes again and again to receive the same mortal wound; in fact, he comes, though fainter and fainter each time, till Sam is at length so exhausted with running through such a fat body that he reels backward fainting just as his antagonist falls upon the stage with a last gasp and a bump that convulses the whole audience with laughter.
After this they return panting to the table, and recruit themselves with another tankard of ale, over which some conversation takes place, introductory of the plot of the piece, and the two quondam strollers separate. I have said that several of the characters were not named in the bills, so that we are at liberty to give them any passing name by way of identification. Even the name of Sam Weller was not given, so far as I remember; but nobody could doubt who it was from the first moment of his entrance. One of the characters represented by Dickens was named Mr. Gabblewig, a capital name for an over-voluble barrister, but certainly of far less mark and importance in the piece than other characters to whom no names were given.
Another character played by Dickens was a hypochondriac, for whom a certain renowned Doctor (a quack, of course) had prescribed repeated doses, day and night, of mustard and milk. The sick gentleman, seated in a great high-backed padded arm-chair, went through a rambling discourse, continually interrupted by spasmodic contortions, which he accompanied with declarations such as, “That’s the mustard! I know by the hot, biting pang! Ha! that’s the milk! I’m sure that must be the milk by the griping! The sour curds are now in full. Oh;—there’s the mustard again!—come to—come to—come to correct the milk, as the Doctor said it would.”
At this painful crisis Mark Lemon enters as the great Doctor. His make-up is altogether admirable—black evening dress, with knee-smalls, black silk stockings, gilt knee-buckles, and gilt shoe-buckles; black silk vest, with a very large white shirt-frill, and a mock-diamond pin. His fingers display several mourning-rings. A high, old-fashioned white neckcloth, without shirt collar, and powdered hair, complete his costume. He advances with a slow, soft pace, a gentle, yet somewhat pompous air, and gesticulates with his hands, occasionally patting the patient’s shoulder, very much in the style of the Doctor in Punch’s show, full of ridiculous patronage and conceited paternal dogmatism. The discourse he delivers is in the following strain:—
“Yes, yes—ah, yes, my friend—calm yourself, my dear sir—be quite calm. What you are suffering from at this moment is simply the pervestigation of the lacteal mustardine panacea, acting diagonally and hydrodynamically upon the vesicular and nervine systems, and thence sympathetically upon the periosteum. But be calm—be quite calm. We shall very soon—yes—let me feel your pulse! Ah, yes, very fair—three, four, five, six—my watch—my—bless my soul! I’ve left it at my nephew’s [Aside: My uncle’s]; but we can count as well without it. There—that will do—keep yourself—keep yourself calm, my dear sir!” (Here the patient exhibits a variety of contortions.) “We shall change the medicine. We shall just order you a mild preparation of the agglomerated balsamic phenomenon, with a few grains of the carthusian pigment, and a tablespoonful every half-hour of the astrobolic decoction of tetramuncus.”
Here the patient starts up in horror at the prospect, and, forgetting all his ailments, rushes madly about the stage, driving the Doctor and everybody else before him in his exit.
The character that produced the greatest effect was that of a woman who had no name awarded to her in the piece, but to whom Dickens always alluded as Mrs. Gamp,—not the real Mrs. Gamp, but only a near relation. Dickens’s make-up in this character was not to be surpassed, unless indeed by one other which he personated, and by that of a wretched half-starved charity-boy represented by Mr. Egg. The woman was accusing Mr. Nightingale of paternity in this matter, and she calls the boy to come forward and show himself as the living proof of her declaration. Thus summoned, a pale, miserable face, with hair cropped close, like a convict, and wearing a little round workhouse cap, peeped forth at one wing. By stealthy degrees the object advanced in a sidelong way, half retreating at times, and finally getting behind Mr. Nightingale’s chair, and only showing himself now and then when lugged forth by his mother. Mr. Egg was naturally short and attenuated, but how he contrived to make such a skeleton-like appearance was a marvel to all who looked upon him. Over his own face he had literally painted another face, and one so woful and squalid was surely never seen before upon the stage. The acting was equally perfect, for not only did he enter like “a thing forbid,” but all his movements kept up this appearance of abject self-consciousness and furtive evasion of all eyes. He crouched down behind or at the side of Mr. Nightingale’s chair, like a starved hound, too terrified even to eat if food were offered to him, and finally he skulked and bolted off the stage at long strides, looking back as though he expected to be shot at like some intruding reptile. Altogether the thing was too real; it was more painful than pleasurable, and so far passed the true bounds of art. But the speech of the woman, as delivered by Dickens, amply made up for the pain caused by her wretched-looking boy. This speech, often repeated afterwards, was never heard to the end, from the incessant laughter it caused, not only among the audience, but among all the “Guild” behind the scenes. When not in front to hear it, we used to congregate at the wings of the stage. It was uttered with unbroken volubility, very nearly in the following words:—
“Don’t speak to me, sir! now, don’t go to argify with me! don’t pertend to consolate or reason with a unperteckted woman, which her naytural feelings is too much for her to support! Leave your ’ouse! No, sir, I will not leave the ’ouse without seeing my child, my boy, righted in all his rights!—that dear boy, sir, as you just saw, which he was his mother’s hope and his father’s pride, and no one as I knows on’s joy. And the name as was guv to this blessedest of infants, and vorked in best Vitechapel mixed, upon a pin-cushion, were Abjalom, after his own parential father, Mr. Nightingale, and likewise Mr. Skylark who no otherwise than by being guv to drinking, lost an ’ole day’s work at the veel-wright business, vich it wos but limited, being veels of donkey-chaises and goats; and vun on ’em wos even drawn by geese for a wager, and came up the ile of the parish church one Sunday during arternoon sarvice, by reason of the perwersity of the hanimals, as could be testified by Mr. Vix the beadle, afore he died of drawing on new Vellington boots after a ’arty meal of boiled beef and pickle cabbage to which he was not accustomed. Yes, Mr. Robin Redbreast, I means Nightingale, in the marble founting of that werry church wos he baptised Abjalom, vich never can be undone I am proud to declare, not to please nor give offence to no one, nohows and noveres, sir. No sir, no sir, I says, for affliction sore long time Maria Nightingale bore; physicianers was in vain, and one, sir, in partickler vich she tore the ’air by ’andfuls out of his edd by reason of disagreement with his perscriptions on the character of her complaint; and dead she is, and will be, as the ’osts of the Egyptian fairies, as I shall prove to you all by the hevydence of my brother the sexton, who I shall here perduce to your confusion in the twinkling of a star or humin hye!”
A critic in the Pall Mall Gazette, dealing synthetically with the works of Dickens, alludes to his habit of inventing or selecting peculiar characters and whimsical individualities, thus living in the midst of a world of oddities, very much of his own creation, and not appearing to be at all aware that no such classes were extant. Very observant people who have also penetrated among the more hidden abodes, so to speak, of the lower strata of the population, have from time to time noticed specimens of most of these oddities; but they have been rare; nobody but Mr. Dickens would say they constituted classes. In one of the early numbers of “The Heads of the People,” an article was written by Leigh Hunt, entitled “The Monthly Nurse.” His description of this character, not omitting the great event in the house of “the baby,” is not only perfectly truthful and natural, but extremely amusing. Like most of his writings, it is full of touches of kindliness and elegant humour. But for laughable qualities and broad fun it cannot be compared to Mrs. Gamp. We once heard a lady exclaim, “Oh, do read to us about the baby. Dickens is capital at a baby!”
One more impersonation by Dickens remains to be described. It will have been noticed that the woman who discoursed so volubly and confusedly about her boy, making accusations which nobody on the stage, or off, can understand, announces the coming of her brother, the sexton, who is to prove something, to the confusion of everybody. And, in a remarkably brief time after his exit as the woman, Dickens again enters as her brother, the sexton. He appears to be at least ninety years of age, not merely by the common stage make-up of long white hair, large white eyebrows, blinking pink eyelids, and painted wrinkles and furrows, but by feebleness of limbs, a body pressed down by time, and suffering from accumulated infirmities. He is supported carefully by one arm, and now and then on each side, as he very slowly comes forward. The old sexton is hopelessly deaf, and his voice has a quailing, garrulous fatuity. He evidently likes to talk when an opportunity occurs, but it is quite obvious that he cannot hear himself speak any better than he can hear those who speak to him. When somebody bawls in his ear a certain question about burying, he replies in a soft, mild, quavering voice, “It’s of no use whispering to me, young man.” The effect of these few words was at once pathetic and ludicrous. This sexton is the character that Miss Mitford pronounced wonderfully truthful. After repeatedly shouting “buried,” he suddenly fancies he has caught the meaning of the word, and the worn and withered countenance feebly lights up with the exclamation, “Brewed! oh, yes, sir, I have brewed many a good gallon of ale in my time. The last batch I brewed, sir, was finer than all the rest—the best ale ever brewed in the county. It used to be called in our parts here, ‘Samson with his hair on!’—in allusion—in allusion”—(here his excitement shook the tremulous frame into coughing and wheezing)—“in allusion to its great strength.” He looked from face to face to see if his venerable jest was understood by those around; and then, softly repeating, with a glimmering smile, “in allusion to its great strength,” he turned slowly about and made his exit, like one moving towards his own grave while he thinks he is following the funeral of another.
With this afterpiece closed the first night’s performance of the “Guild” at Devonshire House. The Duke was so delighted with our success that he proposed both the comedy and the afterpiece should be repeated. On the second night his Grace gave a magnificent ball and supper to the performers, and the whole audience. It was a very brilliant scene. Some of the younger ladies amused themselves with identifying the various characters who had appeared on the stage; and this was no easy matter as we had flattered ourselves that the make-up, by wigs, paint, and powder, of most of us was a complete transformation. One of the most amusing things in this ball-and-supper scene was the state of romantic admiration into which Jerrold was thrown by the beauty of some of those who might truly have been designated the flowers of the nobility. Jerrold moved hastily about, his large eyes gleaming as if in a walking vision; and when he suddenly came upon any of the “Guild” he uttered glowing and racy ejaculations, at which some laughed, while others felt disposed to share his raptures.
After these two great inaugural nights, the same performances were given in the provinces, in Edinburgh, and at the Duke’s mansion at Chatsworth, where the extraordinary improvements in the gardens, orchards, conservatories, and shrubberies, by Sir Joseph Paxton, much enhanced the pleasure of the visiting amateurs. The next performances, however, immediately after those at Devonshire House, were given at the Queen’s Concert Rooms, Hanover Square, to overflowing audiences. We then visited Manchester, Liverpool, Bath, Bristol, etc., meeting with great success everywhere; so much so that Dickens announced one night after supper, and before the usual games began, that having already made ₤3,000, without much trouble, he thought we should continue until ₤5,000 was realised. With that sum he considered the “Guild” would be fully justified in laying their prospectus before the public, saying, “We have done thus much ourselves towards the foundation; now what will you do to help us?”
The same pieces being played at each town, and no rehearsals required, there was plenty of leisure for private study besides visiting and amusement. It was, however, established as a rule among us, that on the days when a performance was to be given, we should all dine together at two o’clock, and not sit long at table afterwards. When the performance was over we had supper, to which each person invited any particular friend who was resident in that city; and in most cases the mayor and other civic magnates. It was generally Dickens’s custom, as he always liked to do things on a handsome scale, to single out the principal hotel in the place, and then take the whole hotel—at any rate the two largest rooms, and all the beds—for the worshipful company of the “Guild.” Sometimes it happened that we had no visitors to these supper-parties, and the wind-up was then apt to merge into more unreserved hilarity. At certain times everybody was talking or laughing at the same moment. Sitting next to Dickens one night, and beginning to say “As for conversation”—he suddenly exclaimed, “Impossible! it’s hopeless,” and sank back in his chair.
I have alluded to some “games” that were occasionally played after supper; and the reader who imagines them to have been whist, billiards, cribbage, chess, backgammon, or even a “round game,” will by no means have hit upon the fact. And yet, in one sense, it no doubt was a round game—being leap-frog, which we played all round the supper-table. Much of the fun of this consisted in special difficulties, with their consequent disasters; for Dickens was fond of giving a “high back,” which, though practicable enough for the more active, was not easily surmounted by others, especially after a substantial supper; while the immense breadth and bulk of Mark Lemon’s back presented a sort of bulwark to the progress of the majority. Now, as everybody was bound to run at the “frog-back” given, and do his best, it often happened that a gentleman landed upon the top of Mark’s back, and there remained; while with regard to the “high back” given by Dickens, it frequently occurred that the leaping frog never attained the centre, but slipped off on one side; and I well remember a certain occasion when a very vigorous run at it failing to carry the individual over, the violent concussion sent the high-arched “frog” flying under the table, followed headlong by the unsuccessful leaper. Dickens rose with perfect enjoyment at the disaster, exclaiming that it was just what he expected! But the accidents attending Mark Lemon were far more numerous, for while his breadth and length of back were most arduous for any but the very long-legged ones, his bulk and weight, when it came to his turn to leap, were of a kind to bring down the backs of all but the very strongest frogs.
The female characters of the comedy were enacted by professional ladies, who took private apartments in the vicinity of the concert room, or hall, engaged for the “Guild,” or else came down by express train on the nights of performance. The “Guild” carried their own “theatre” with them, constructed in various parts and pieces, and made to be packed up, erected, and taken down again in a few hours—the whole being comprised in a small compass under the arrangement of Sir Joseph Paxton and a theatrical machinist. No breakages of any importance ever occurred, and no accidents.
A few words should be said upon the final results of these histrionic labours. That run of good fortune which attended its brilliant commencement did not keep pace with the hopes that had been turned towards the practical foundation of the original design. Whether the public did not adequately respond to the appeal; whether the appeal was not properly made, or the leaders of the scheme found it impossible to devote any more time to the work, or whatever else was the cause, is not within my knowledge; neither do I know what was the total sum realised, or how it was employed, as I sailed for the South Seas before the series of performances was brought to a close. The local position and surroundings of the proposed College, and the structure itself, I do not consider to be very cheerfully described by the visitor who said that “he had seen three doleful cottages standing in a field,”—poor shadows and frail images of the fine idea of a College retreat for Literature and Art—sad, yet suitable emblem of the mortal remains of nearly all the original projectors.
* [In Mr. Horne’s book, “An Exposition of the False Medium and Barriers Excluding Men of Genius from the Public” (pp.287–299), published by Effingham Wildon in 1833.—S.R.T.M.]
* Personated by Mr. Horne.—ED. [S.R.T.M.]
* A celebrated painter is said to have made a similar remark. What would he have thought of Mr. Dickens in the above costume? [S.R.T.M.]
Ainger, Alfred. “Peeps at Dickens: Pen Pictures from Contemporary Sources: XXXVI—Canon Ainger’s Account of ‘Mr. Nightingale’s Diary’: From ‘Mr. Dickens’s Amateur Theatricals,’ by Alfred Ainger, in Macmillan’s Magazine, January 1871.” Dickensian 36 (1940): 203-4.
Browning, Elizabeth Barrett. Letters of Elizabeth Barrett Browning Addressed to Richard Hengist Horne, author of “Orion,” “Gregory VII.,” “Cosmo De’ Medici,” Etc. With Comments on Contemporaries. Ed. S. R. Townshend Mayer. 2 vols. London: Richard Bentley and Son, 1877.
Dickens, Charles, Letters of Charles Dickens (the Pilgrim Edition). General eds. Madeline House, Graham Storey, and Kathleen Tillotson. 12 vols. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1965–2002.
———. Miscellaneous Papers: From ‘The Examiner,’ ‘Household Words,’ and ‘All the Year Round’: Plays and Poems. 2 vol. Ed. B[ertram] W[aldrom] Matz. The Works of Charles Dickens: New National Edition, vols. 35, 36. New York: Hearst’s International Library Co. Publishers, n.d. .
———. The Plays and Poems of Charles Dickens, With a Few Miscellanies in Prose. Ed. Richard Herne Shepherd. 2 vols. London: W. H. Allen & Co., 1885.
———. Speeches of Charles Dickens. Ed, K.J. Fielding. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1960.
——— and Mark Lemon. “Mr. Nightingale’s Diary: A Farce in One Act”. Boston: James R. Osgood and Company, 1877. Reprint, English Prose Drama Full-Text Database, Cambridge: Chadwyck-Healey, 1996.
Fisher, Leona Weaver, ed. Lemon, Dickens, and Mr. Nightingale’s Diary: A Victorian Farce. ELS Monograph Series vol. 41. University of Victoria, British Columbia: English Literary Studies, 1988.
Forster, John. Life of Charles Dickens. Ed. J[ames] W[illiam] T[homas] Ley. London: Cecil Palmer, 1928. ALSO: Life of Charles Dickens: with 500 Portraits, Facsimiles and Other Illustrations. 2 vols. Ed. B[ertram] W[aldrom] Matz. London: Chapman and Hall Limited, 1911.
Klepac, Richard L. Mr Mathews at Home. London: Society for Theatre Research, 1979.
Ley, J[ames] W[illiam] T[homas]. Dickens Circle. New York: E. P. Dutton & Company, 1919.
Lohrli, Anne, comp. Household Words: A Weekly Journal 1850–1859 Conducted by Charles Dickens. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1973.
“Mr Nightingale Revived”. Dickensian 65 (1969): 177.
Slater, Michael. “Centenary on Radio, Stage and Screen”. Dickensian 66 (1970): 237–39.
———. “Dickensian Dramas: The Frozen Deep and Mr Nightingale’s Diary”. Dickensian 87 (1991): 177–78.
The two articles by Horne were written about twenty years after the fact (1871), and on some points, Horne’s memory deceives him. He recalls that Mr. Nightingale’s Diary was performed on the premiere night of Not so Bad as we Seem, before Victoria and Albert. Some modern-day texts make the same mistake. However, all documentary evidence contemporary to the two plays agrees that the no after-piece was given that first night. Dickens wrote (1 May 1851): “We act no farce on the first night, as the Queen gets very restless towards 12 o'Clock” (Pilgrim 6:372). Recall, Not so Bad as we Seem premiered 16 May. The playbill, which is very detailed, has been reprinted in a few places, and mentions no after-piece (Pilgrim 6:849; Forster, ed. Matz, opposite 2:78). After the royal premiere, Dickens wrote (21 May 1851): “I hope the farce will ‘go’ charmingly” (Pilgrim 6:396), and soon after (Sat 24 May 1851): “…there is to be a farce, to be produced on Tuesday next…” (Pilgrim 6:398). The Illustrated London News gives a detailed report of the royal premiere, as “piece of literary and artistic history” (Sat 24 May 1851, 440.1), but again mentions no after-piece that first night. It does report: “Another representation at Devonshire House takes place on Tuesday…a ball will follow the comedy, and a new farce written for the occasion, called Mr. Nightingale’s Diary” (ibid, 440.2). Fisher concurs (12), and gives even further corroborative evidence. From a review from Bentley’s Miscellany (Jun 1851, 666): “[O]n that occasion the attractions were enhanced by a new farce, called ‘Mr. Nightingale’s Diary,’ and a ball and supper. The appearance of the theatre at this reception presented little difference from that which it exhibited on the former [16 May]; except, perhaps, that the excitement of a ball in prospect diffused a livelier feeling amongst the audience….” On the copy of the play submitted to the Lord Chamberlain for licensing, the date of performance is given as “Tuesday next the 27th inst” (Fisher, 15). I hope that no doubt remains.
A few other problems, noted briefly—Wilkie Collins did indeed appear in the premiere performances of both Not so Bad as we Seem and Diary. The Queen lunched on her “floral throne” in the supper-room, not after the premiere of Not so Bad as We Seem, but four days earlier (12 May), during an advance visit to see the preparations (Pilgrim 6:336). The Pilgrim letters give the Guild’s performances in some detail, and there is no mention of any appearance in Edinburgh. I have not attempted to find every error in the Horne articles; the intent here is to show that they must be read and used with care.
Text is from Matz, with many corrections from Fisher’s resetting of the first edition. Many of these readings are confirmed in the 1877 Osgood edition. Some significant changes have also been introduced by the current editor; new matter is shown in blue. Matz: “the blessed innocent has been invaygled of”; above:“invaygled off”. Matz: “you old Bedlam”; above: “you old Beldam”. A new stage direction has been added: “(Aside.) All’s safe. No proof.” A new stage direction from the Osgood edition is given: “My master!—(Aloud.) My mother!” For the HTML version of this work, a few changes in formatting have been made. The table of the Dramatis Personæ only approximates the formatting of the Matz edition. The right-justified stage directions to “exit” or “exeunt” are without exception placed on a separate line, and are never flush with the preceding speech (as is occasionally done in Matz). A few obvious typesetting mistakes have been silently corrected. Other than this, the text appears as in Matz, preserving its stylistic conventions, many of them originating in the 1908 edition. The text of the Horne memoir given above is reprinted from Browning, 2:199–261, with no changes. Browning reprints the two articles from the Gentleman’s Magazine (Apr?, May 1871), with corrections and additions.
- Beppe Sabatini, Editor