Victorian London - Publications - Social Investigation/Journalism - London Up to Date, by George Augustus Sala, 1895 - Ten P.M. : A Culture Conversazione

[-back to menu for this book-]



THIS is a grand night - the grandest, perhaps, in the whole season-for the members and guests of the Androgynacean Cénacle of Culture, patrons; their Highnesses the Prince and Princess of Trebizond, that well - known literary, artistic, musical, choregraphic, philosophical, and theosophical Association, which periodically meets at the Niminypiminy Rooms, somewhere in the neighbourhood of Eleusis Square, N.W., to unbend their minds in social intercourse, to discuss in a light and pleasant fashion the current topics of the day, while relaxing not in the ardour of their Cult of the Beautiful; and who also, on these festive occasions, listen to the enchanting strains of chamber-music, and the exercitations of eminent amateur vocalists of both sexes, and partake of the lightest of light refreshments-when there is any room at the buffet: which contingency is rare. You happen to have the advantage of the acquaintance of young Camel Harewood, who devotes his rare artistic gifts to the study and practice of the Beautiful - always with a big B - that is to say, he is a "stippler" engaged at a photographer's studio in Bayswater. He is one of the leading spirits [-182-] of the Androgynacean Cénacle of Culture; and through his influence you have been favoured with a card of invitation for this night's gathering. If you accept the bidding in a proper spirit, you should prize that piece of pasteboard as highly as though it were the Lord Chamberlain's intimation of his being commanded by Her Majesty to invite you to a State Ball at Buckingham Palace.
    It is true, that at the last-named festivity you would be aware of Royalty, and behold some of the most resplendent grandees of the bluest blood in Great Britain and Ireland; but in the Niminypiminy Rooms you will come in contact with something far superior to blue. blood. You will meet, sir, with Brains - brains, always combined with benignity, and sometimes - well, just sometimes, with Beauty.
    Evening dress is, of course, de rigueur at the Niminypiminy Rooms to-night; so you array yourself in what you consider to be irreproachable evening garb; but when the obliging Camel Harewood makes his appearance, you find that his costume far surpasses yours in cultured picturesqueness. The gentlemen members of the Androgynacean Cénacle of Culture wear the insignia of the Society - a badge in enamelled gold, in the similitude of a bird, the exact nature of which has been made a matter of lively controversy. Some say that the enamelled biped is a dove; others assert that it is a swan; while there are cynical critics who allege that it is a goose, and nothing but a goose. Whatsoever bird it be, the male members of the Cénacle wear the badge [-183-] at their buttonholes when in full dress, and this decoration, in conjunction with a satin vest of pale amber,-a truly cultured colour-gives to the wearer an air of je ne sçais quoi - excuse the French expression, for I am at a loss to find an English equivalent.
    The Niminypiminy Rooms are so called for the reason that they form part of the premises of the well- known Niminypiminy Club, a body with very varied attributes ; seeing that they include the comforts and the recreations of a social circle, and an extensive picture-dealing and print-selling business, and the publication of the monthly journal, Elutheria, exclusively devoted to the interests of culture. Their Highnesses the Prince and Princess of Trebizond are respectively President and Vice-President of the Club, the committee of which is always ready to lend its spacious rooms once a month during the summer and winter seasons to the Androgynacean Cénacle. You have heard also that the Prince is likewise the chairman of the well-known Royal Didascolon Syndicate for publishing poems, plays, and three-volume novels by hitherto unknown authors; and the prospectus of this fascinating enterprise promises aspiring poets, dramatists, and novelists a dividend of at least thirty per cent on the modest amount of capital which they are expected to invest.
    The entrance fee of two guineas is a mere fleabite, and the annual subscription of two additional guineas is almost ridiculously cheap; but then, provided you are a shareholder to a certain amount, you are privileged to have your works brought out at cost price - the [-184-] Syndicate beneficently undertaking to save you all trouble in the way of paper, print, commission on publishing, advertising, and so forth; all of which, to avoid subsequent disputes or misunderstandings, are lumped together in a neat little round sum, which you pay beforehand. Nothing, clearly, could be at the same time so sweetly cultured and so thoroughly business-like as this arrangement.
    The Niminypiminy Club occupies a large but slightly ramshackle mansion in a street near Eleusis Square. On the ground floor are the extensive Fine Art Repositories of Huz, Buz and Pildash, those well- known virtuosos, whom you recollect as purchasers of the famous Walton-on-the-Naze Raffaele, which a poor widow woman at that interesting watering-place gladly parted with for two pounds seventeen shillings, but the value of which several well-known experts appraised at twelve thousand pounds sterling. Mr. Rockoil de Greese, the great American Petroleum King, was on the point of purchasing at the upset price the Walton-on-the-Naze masterpiece, with the intention of placing it in the picture gallery of his sumptuous marble palace in Fifth Avenue, New York City; only, just before he sat down to sign the cheque, one Richard Tinto, an itinerant painter of Bohemian proclivities, came forward to declare that he had painted this reputed Raffaele, as a pot-boiler, for fifty shillings - the purchaser being the guileless widow woman, who turned out to be a very artful old crone who kept an Aunt Sally shop, and who for many years past had been making a very [-185-] good thing of it by pretending to have Old Masters in her possession, which she was gratefully willing, poor soul, to sell for a mere song, as she was quite unaware of the real value of the canvases. The embarrassing little affair soon blew over. Mr. Rockoil de Greese did not buy the bogus canvas; but Messrs. Huz, Buz and Pildash continue to do a pleasantly brisk business in unimpeachable Dresden and Sèvres china, Henri Deux ware, Cinque Cento tapestry, Chinese jade, Russian malachite, Venice glass chandeliers, antique bronzes, blue Nankin, and Crown Derby.
    A selection of these art treasures have to all appearance been lent to the Niminypiminy Club; at least, bits of china and bronze, and pictures in oil and water colours of dubious extraction, are scattered on mantel- pieces and side tables throughout the three saloons in which the Androgynacean Cénacle holds its conversazione to-night. In particular, in the third apartment of the suite there hangs behind the buffet a prodigious piece of tapestry, surrounded by a highly ornate Renaissance border, the centre being occupied with a representation of the Feast of the Gods on Mount Olympus. This triumph of textile art, it is announced, is after Giulio Romano, but how many years "after" that celebrated master is not stated. Nor, again, have you time or opportunity to ascertain, from narrow ocular inspection, whether the huge square of arras has been worked by the needle, or woven, or merely painted on coarse canvas according to the subtle process carried on with much success at Florence. For [-186-] the rest, the rooms look handsome enough; the carpet is a little dingy, and there are a few cracks in the walls and the ceiling, but the club is supplied with the electric light in abundance, and the whole scene is one of undeniable brilliancy.
    Most judiciously, for the performance of the classical chamber music, which forms so important a feature in the evening's entertainment, the Committee of the Cénacle have secured the services of Bopp's Band, that well-known orchestra which was originally formed in the Grand Duchy of Gerolstein, for many years subsidised by his Ineffability the Grand Duke, and which has now migrated to London for the season, by special Grand Ducal permission. Bopp's Band discourses nothing but string and wood wind music. No braying Sax-horns, no clamorous cornets a piston, no gruff bassoons for them; but instead of those harshly metallic instruments, Bopp brings to the fore a good store of flutes, and clarionets, and hautboys, of violins and cellos, and double-basses. As you enter, Bopp's instrumentalists, who are installed in the central and largest saloon, are lustily blowing and scraping away at some very classical work indeed. "Op : 97," so Camel Harewood whispers to you, of that mighty German composer, Von Stummakake. Not being musical, you find it somewhat difficult to make out whether "Op: 97" is a cantata, or a fugue, or an overture, or a requiem, or a symphony, or a fantasia; and altogether, the last "number" in Von Stummakake's imposing work reminds you very much of an air which you used to [-187-] hear in your infancy, and which your nurse was accustomed to qualify as "the tune the old cow died of." On the whole, you come to the conclusion that a Torture Chamber was the original apartment in which "chamber music" of the Von Stummakakian order was performed.
    Although you know nothing of Cecilia's divine art, either theoretically or technically, and although your soul is entirely innocent of any acquaintance with the mysteries of counterpoint or thorough bass, you have been endowed by nature with the gift called "an ear for music," and you thus derive unmingled delight from hearing pretty little Miss Fubbs, eighth daughter of Professor Fubbs, of the Mangosteen College, Rummipore, Bengal, warble that sweetest of modern English ballads, composed, it is true, by Signor Stuffato Spaghetti, originally from Bergamo, but long domiciled in London, "The Tear I licked from Lizzie's Cheek." Rapturously encored, clever little Miss Fubbs obliges the company with that irresistible Irish ballad, "Och! will ye ate the Praties now?" the latest production of that well- known composer, Herr Rauschinken Schweinkopt, originally from Stettin, in Pomerania, but long since domiciled in O'Connell Street, Dublin.
    Later in the evening Miss Fubbs will find a rival in Madame Beatrice Maguillivrato - her husband is a braw Scot named Macgillivray, from Edinburgh town, who is deeply interested in the retail woollen trade. Then, according to the friendly Camel Harewood, you will have an opportunity of hearing a marvellous [-188-] Nocturne on the cello, performed by that talented Hungarian artiste, Otto Mgyzmyskzy, from Buda-Pesth, whom, however, when you do listen to his ravishing strains, you fancy that you heard once at a concert, at the Spa, Scarborough. Then Otto's name was not Mgyzmyskzy, but Moses. Later on, there will be a comic duet by the Sisters Limejuice, called "Captain Kicksey came to Tea; Oh Dear, the Spooning o't!"; and, of course, the evening s entertainment will not be complete without young Mr. Jollyboy's excruciatingly droll recitation, "My Wife and her Washerwoman," and a grand pianoforte séance by Megacephalus Bulbous, the marvellous American boy with the large head. He will give, so Camel Harewood tells you in an excited whisper, no less than thirty-seven variations on the leit-motif of "Ta-ra-ra-boom-deay."
    You do not, however, take all your musical recreation at once. "The circles of our felicities," wrote learned Sir Thomas Browne, "make short arches;" so, to widen their span and protract their height, after you have had a spell of harmonic bliss, you stroll away to mingle with the animated groups in the saloon; and you are introduced to celebrity after celebrity by the courteous Camel Harewood. You listen, with enchanted ears, to the words of wisdom and thoughtfulness, and polished elegance which drop like pearls from ever so many renowned lips, and you begin about eleven P.M. to understand what Culture is. If truth must be told, all this refined converse has made you slightly hungry, and perhaps, to a still greater degree, thirsty; so you [-189-] nudge Camel Harewood in the ribs, just after Mrs. Colly Molley Puff, in blue spectacles and a Japanese tea-gown - which might be a bed-gown -  has concluded a glowing ten minutes' address, the latest outcome of Neo-Buddhism, in connection with the discouragement of Vivisection and Vaccination, the Affinities between Agnosticism and Asafoetida, and the Precipitation of divers interesting communications from the Mahatmas, domiciled in the middle of Thibet, strictly forbidding the faithful to wear stays, and as strictly enjoining them to believe in spirit-rapping, palmistry, and the veracity of the Tichborne Claimant. You whisper to Camel Harewood that you would like, if possible, to obtain a little refreshment, to which he replies, "Right you are, my boy, go in and win;2 but although you experience very little difficulty in getting as far as the outskirts of the crowd in the third room, where the refreshment buffet is situated, it is quite another matter when you try to "win," or obtain something in the way of ices, or sandwiches, or tea and coffee, or aerated waters.
    You are told that such articles really exist at the buffet; in fact, you meet a stout gentleman with a very florid countenance who is freely perspiring, and who tells you that twenty minutes ago he was within an ace of "collaring," as he more forcibly than elegantly phrases it, some claret cup, which, however, was dexterously whipped away from him, by the deft fingers of Miss Olga Bogeymann, the authoress of The Shrieks of Transcendentalism, or Love, Blood, and Bread-and-Dripping - the thrilling romance of which [-190-] the circulating libraries took so many hundreds of copies, and the perusal of which is supposed to have kept the Right Hon. W. E. Gladstone out of his bed for an entire night. So at least, you read in that lively little aesthetic journal, The Tomtit, of which, by the way, the editor, Dr. Puny B. Pupp, is present to-night. Where the doctor got his degree is uncertain ; but everybody calls him Dr. Pupp. He is well known to the nobility and gentry of North-West Kensington as Dr. Pupp; and who shall deprive him of the harmless prefix to his name?
    It would be as cruel, perhaps, to question the right of the Prince of Trebizond to the style and title which His Highness assumes. It is true that he does not go to Court as the Prince of Trebizond ; nor does Her Highness, the Princess, claim that dignity for herself at a Royal Drawing-room. It may be, after all, that the Prince and Princess know nothing of the circles of St. James's or Buckingham Palace, and are content with a simple-minded but frankly loyal homage, which their exalted rank secures for them in the cultured society of Upper Tooting, where they occupy a modest, semidetached villa. Of course, the Prince has a Kiosque at Trebizond, a villa on the Lake of Como, a summer chalet in Switzerland, a palazzo at Venice, a chamois-hunting box in the Tyrol, and an appartement in the Avenue des Champs Elysées; but, in England, he gives himself no airs, and is satisfied with enjoying and imparting to others, the Culture which he finds in fullest bloom now at the Niminypiminy Club, and [-191-] now at the periodical gatherings of the Androgynacean Cénaclre.
    Not a very noticeable personage to look upon is His Highness the Prince of Trebizond. Scraggy little "wearish", middle-aged man with a red head. Shabbily dressed and, to all seeming, imperfectly washed. But how often does it happen that you are disappointed with the physical aspect of the illustrious It is when the Prince speaks - with a slightly Irish brogue - that you discover how vast is the superiority of Mind over Matter. It may be just hinted, that His Highness has large estates in County Kerry, where, of course, he acquired his Hibernian accent. The Princess, moreover, who is stout but beaming and resplendent in sky-blue satin and garnets, is also, so you would imagine, from the Emerald Isle.
    Well, midnight chimes, and you have had a very pleasant evening. You have heard plenty of music, both vocal and instrumental; and although the crowd surrounding the buffet was so dense and so furious in its efforts to obtain refreshments that you have come away hungry and thirsty, you have had your fill of culture, and the best thing you can do when you hail a hansom, is to go down to your club, and while you discuss your supper, try to elevate and ennoble the vulgar viands and potables which you may be consuming, by the remembrance of the thoroughly intellectual and artistic night you have spent in the society of the members of the Androgynacean Cénacle.

[--nb. grey numbers in brackets indicate page number, (ie. where new page begins), ed.--]