. . .
coming home, went round by the Oxford Music Hall, to see another female acrobat,
soi-disant Mdlle de Glorion. She came forward to the footlights hand in hand
with two male acrobats; she was drest much like them; and she made a bow, and
not a curtsy, to the spectators, as they did. A
A very pretty English girl, she seemed to be, of 18 or 20 years; trim and slight and shapely, standing about 5 feet 4. The only clothing she had on was a blue satin doublet fitting close to her body and having very scanty trunk hose below it. Her arms were all bare; her legs, cased in fleshings, were as good as bare, up to the hip: the only sign of woman about her was that she had a rose in her bosom, and another in her short curly hair. She began the performance by placing the nape of her neck in a noose at the end of a rope that hung over a pulley aloft; then, hanging so with her head thrown back, she cleverly hoisted herself up, by hauling at the other half of the same rope, to the triple swing or trapeze, some twenty feet above the stage. There she sat, side by side with her two male companions; and went through the usual gymnastics; hanging head downwards, hanging by one leg or one knee; sliding down headforemost over the body of one of the men, and then catching her feet under his armpits, and coming up again by grasping his body between her knees and his leg with her hands, whilst she brought her head & shoulders up by a strong muscular effort; and lastly, balancing herself on the small of her back upon the trapeze, till at a given signal the two men, who were hanging head downward on either side of her, each seized one of her ankles, and pulling her so by main force from her perch, flung her bodily forward and downward, and so held her upside down in the air, her limbs all sprawling apart. The shock to her brain and to all the joints and sinews of her body must have been tremendous: yet this is what she, and many other young women, do daily for a living; and she was rewarded with great applause by the crowded hall, as the men dropped their hold and left her to grasp and slide down a loose rope alone. But this was not all: for the 'chairman' got up & said 'Ladies & Gentlemen, Mdlle de Glorion will now take her daring leap for life, along the whole length of the hall'. And the fair acrobat went down from the stage aiming the audience, alone, and walked, half nude as she was, through the crowd, to the other end of the long hall, and there went up a staircase into the gallery. She passed close to me; taking no heed of any one; her fair young face all crimson with heat and wet with perspiration; and climbed the rope ladder that led up from the gallery to a small platform, just big enough to stand on, which was suspended high up under the ceiling. There she stood, in sight of all the people; intent on preparing for her nightly peril, and taking no thought (nor did they, I think, just then) of the fact that she was almost utterly unclothed. Two strong parallel ropes were stretched from hooks in the roof, fifty feet off, to the platform where she was: on the stage, far beyond that, one of her mates was hanging inverted from the trapeze, awaiting her; but he was wholly hidden from her by two great discs of paper stretched (in hoops, which were hung near him, one behind the other, above the footlights. And she had to swing herself, high over the heads of the crowd, across that great space of eightv feet or so, and leap through the two discs and alight in his inverted arms, which she could not even see. A fair girl of eighteen, preparing in sight of all men for such a feat as that; perched up there, naked and unprotected, with no one to help her; anxiously testing the ropes, chalking the soles of her feet, wiping the sweat off her hands and her bonny face, and trying to smile withal. One must suppose that if she had not been an acrobat, every man present would have rushed to rescue or assist her: as it was, she had hired herself to do the thing, and they sat still to see her do it. She did it, of course; she leaped into the air, and in leaping, left the ropes that swung her, and dashed through the two hoops, and was seen hanging in the arms of her mate, grasping his body, her face against his breast. A moment more, and she had lowered herself by the loose rope to the stage, and was bowing and smiling amidst thunders of applause. And so I came away.
Ought we to forbid her to do these things? Certainly not, if she wishes to do them and if men may do them unforbidden: the woe is with those by whom such offences come. And, though it is not well to see a nude man fling a nude girl about as she is flung, or to see her grip his body in mid air between her seemingly bare thighs, I think that an unreflecting audience takes no note of these things and looks on him & her only as two performers. Still, the familiar interlacing of male and female bodies in sight of the public is gross and corrupting, though its purpose be mere athletics. Tonight, when the girl was sitting on the trapeze with her comrades, resting a moment after having climbed up there again from the grip of their hands or feet, she observed that one of their shoes had left a stain of dust on her pink thigh. And she called his attention to it, and wetted her handkerchief and wiped the place; just as nonchalante as if she had been, in her own dressing room, and not there, aloft and under the gaze of several hundred people.
Arthur Munby, Diary, 11 June 1870