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THE AMUSEMENTS OF THE PEOPLE.
THE Middlesex magistrates have shut up the Argyle Rooms. Mr.
Bignell, who has
found it worth his while to invest £80,000 in the place, it is to be presumed,
is much annoyed, and has, in some respects, reason to be so. Year after year
noble lords and Middlesex magistrates have visited the place, and have licensed
it. Indeed, it had become one of the institutions of the country- one of the
places which Bob Logic and Corinthian Tom (for such men still exist, though they
go by other names) would be sure to visit, and such as they and the women who
were habitués will have to [-25-]
go elsewhere. It is said a great public scandal is removed, but the real scandal
yet remains. It is a scandal that such a place ever flourished in the great
metropolis of a land which professes Christianity - which pays clergymen and
deans, and bishops and archbishops princely sums to extirpate that lust of the
flesh and lust of the eye and pride of life, which found their lowest form of
development in the Argyle Rooms. It was a scandal that men of position, who have
been born in English homes and nursed by English mothers, and been consecrated
Christians in baptism, and have been trained at English public schools and
universities, and worshipped in English churches and cathedrals, should have
helped to make the Argyle a flourishing institution. Mr. Bignell created no vice
he merely pandered to what was in existence. It was men of wealth and fashion
who made the Argyle what it was. The Argyle closed, the vice [-26-]
remains the same, and it will avail little to make clean the outside of the
whited sepulchre if within there he rottenness and dead men's bones. Be that as
it may, there are few people who will regret the defeat of Mr. Bignell and the
closing of the Argyle.It was not an improving spectacle in an age that has
sacrificed everything to worldly show, and that has come to regard a brougham
as the one thing needful - as the outward and visible sign of an inward and
invisible grace - as a charter of respectability to everyone who rides in it,
whether purchased by the chastity of woman or the honour of man - to see painted
and bedizenecl females, most of them
Born in a garret, in a kitchen bred, driving up in broughams from St. John's Wood or Chelsea or Belgravia, with their gallants, or "protectors," to the well-known rendezvous, at a late hour, to leave a little [-27-] later for the various oyster-rooms in the district, through a dense crowd of lookers-on, drunk or sober, poor or rich, old or young, as the case might be. In no other capital in Europe was such a sight to be seen. The lesson taught by such a spectacle was neither moral nor improving at first sight, and it was not well that a young, giddy girl, with good looks, and wishing, above all things, for fine dresses and gay society - sick at heart of her lowly home and the dreary drudgery of daily poverty - should there practically have learnt that if she could but make up her mind, to give her virtue to the winds, there awaited her the companionship of men of birth and breeding and wealth, and the gaudy, if short-lived, pomps and splendours of successful vice. It is true that in the outside crowd there were, in rags and tatters, in degradation and filth, shivering with cold, pale with want, hideous with intemperance and [-28-] disease, homeless and friendless and destitute, withered hags old before their time, whom the policeman shrank from touching as he bade them move on, who once were the admired of the Argyle, and the pets and protégées of England's gilded youth; and. here and there in the crowd, with boots in holes and broken hat, and seedy coat buttoned as far as possible to the chin to conceal the absence of a shirt, with hands thrust in empty pockets, sodden in face and feeble of limb, were men who had been hauled from the Argyle to Bow Street and the gaol. It is true thus side by side were the bane and the antidote; but when did youth, flushed with wine and pleasure, pause on the road to ruin? Young says:
All men think all men mortal but themselves,
and in like manner each man or woman in the glow of youth feels confident that he or she can never fall, and thus rushes madly
[-29-] on, ignoring the eternal truth that there is a Nemesis ever tracking the steps of the wrongdoer, one from whose grasp we can never escape, that the pleasures of sin are but for a season, and that the wages of sin are death. By the beery dissipated crowd outside, I say, this obvious fact had been lost sight of. What they wanted to see was the women and the men as they turned out into the streets or drove away. Well, that sight exists no longer, and to a certain extent it is a gain. The Haymarket in these latter days was very different and a much more sober place than it was when the Marquis of Waterford played his drunken pranks at Bob Croft's, or when the simple Windham was in the habit of spending his time and wasting his money and degrading an honoured name at such a place as Barns's or The Blue Posts. Men not far advanced in life can remember the Piccadilly Saloon, with its flashy women and medical students [-30-] and barristers from the Temple, and men about town and greenhorns from the country - who in the small hours turned out into the streets, shouting stentoriously, "We won't go home till morning," and putting their decision into execution by repairing to the wine and coffee rooms which lined both sides of the Haymarket and existed in all the adjacent streets. In some there was a piano, at which a shabby performer was hired to keep up the harmony of the evening and to give an appearance of hilarity to what was after all a very slow affair. In others the company were left to their own resources. At a certain hour the police inspector, with a couple of constables, would look in, and it was comic to see how unconscious he was apparently that every trace of intoxicating drink had been removed, as nothing remained on the tables but a few harmless cups of coffee. It was not till the industrious world had risen to the performance of [-31-] its daily task that the rag-tag and bob-tail of the Haymarket retired to roost; and by the time that earls and holy bishops and godly clergy were ready to drive down the Haymarket to take part in meetings at Exeter Hall to send the Gospel to the heathen abroad, not a trace was left of the outrageous display the night before of the more fearful and sadder forms of heathenism at home. Undoubtedly the Haymarket thirty or forty years ago was an awful place; undoubtedly it will be a little quieter now that the Argyle Rooms are closed, and as the glory of Windmill-street has fled. Undoubtedly we have gained a great deal externally by magisterial action. Yet it is evident we need something more than magisterial sanction for the interference of the police. I am not partial to the men in blue. I doubt their efficacy as agents for moral reform or the introduction of the millennium. They can remove the symptoms, but they [-32-] cannot touch the disease. It seems to me that they often interfere - especially in the case of poor women - when there is no occasion to do so; and no one, when it is requisite, can be more stolidly blind and deaf and dumb than your ordinary policeman. Police surveillance must mean more or less police bribery. It was once my fate to live in a country town and to belong to a library, which was also supported by the superintendent of police. On one occasion I had a book which had previously been in that gentleman's hands, in opening it a letter fell out addressed to him. I did what I ought not to have done, but as it was wide open, I read it, as anyone would. It was from a publican in the town, begging the superintendent's acceptance of a cask of cider. Of course, on the next licensing-day no complaint would be heard as to the character of that house. A journeyman engineer, in his "Habits and Customs of the Working [-33-] Classes," gives us similar testimony as he describes a drinking party during prohibited hours disturbed by the appearance of a policeman, but reassured when told by the landlord that he is one of "the right sort;" which means, continues the author, that "he is one of that tolerably numerous sort who, provided a publican 'tips' them a 'bob' occasionally, and is liberal in the matter of drops of something short when they are on night duty, will not see any night-drinking that may be carried on in his establishment as long as it is done with a show of decency." I need say no more on that head; human nature is the same all the world over. Out of the heart are the issues of life, and no policeman or magistrate can make a drunken people sober, or a low, sordid, and sensual race of men and women noble and pure in thought and beautiful in life. For that we look to the Christian Church in all its branches. To its ministers especially we [-34-] appeal. Let them leave theological wrangling, and the cloister where no living voice is heard, and the well-lined study in which human nature, when it puts in an appearance, has learned to assume a decent and decorous mask, and see what are the amusements of the people, not so much on the Sabbath-day, but on the week-night. The Argyle was but one place out of many. In our great cities there are tens of thousands who live only for amusement, whether they be the working classes or in the higher walks of life. A glance at some of these places of resort may help us to understand what are the amusements of the people, and whether the Church does well and wisely in stamping them with her approval, or regarding them with her frown. It is how a man spends his money, and not how he makes it, that is the true index to his character. It is really impossible to imagine amusements more foolish or more indicative of a low tone of mind [-35-] morally and intellectually than those which are most patronised at the present day. What pleasure can there be in watching a man walking for a bet, or in a woman risking her neck on a trapeze? Yet thousands go to see such a sight. Even the theatres delight in displays equally revolting, perhaps more so from a moral point of view.
When General Grant was in Moscow lately, an acrobat placed four bottles on a high table, and on top of these a chair, which he balanced sideways while he stood on his head on one corner of it. He kept repeating this, adding one chair at a time, until he got five on top of each other, and still showed no signs of stopping; but General Grant got up and walked away, saying he would rather read the death in the papers than witness it. Our music-hall audiences are far more appreciative of the amusements provided for them.
The stage, I have said, may not escape [-36-] censure. It has its illustrious exceptions, but, as Mr. Chatterton has shown us, Shakespeare means bankruptcy, and the majority of adaptations from the French are, it is admitted on all hands, not of an improving character. The way also in which the powers of the licenser are administered is, to say the least, puzzling. It is impossible to represent some subjects on the stage without injury to the morals and the manners of the spectators. In Mr. Arthur Matthison's adaptation of "Les Lionnes Pauvres," the sin of adultery was, it is true, held up to execration ; but the license was withheld because it was deemed undesirable to turn the English theatre into a spectacular divorce court. Another prohibited play was founded on "La Petite Marquise," in which faithlessness to the marriage vow becomes a fine art, and virtue and honour and purity in woman is held up to ridicule. A lady who has married a man very much [-37-] her senior, is represented as encouraging the advances of a seducer, who, when she throws herself in his arms, to avoid the expense of having to keep her, sends her back to her husband; and yet the man who forces this filth on the stage complains that he is badly treated, and questions whether the world has ever given birth, or ever will give birth, to any conception as obscene as that of the old man in "The Pink Dominoes" - a play which, it must be remembered, has had a most successful run upon the stage. At the theatre, the same writer observes, "I have beheld a young man hidden in a chest spring out upon a woman half dressed, while from her lips broke words I shudder to repeat. In peril I have watched with bated breath an attempt to commit a rape elaborately represented before the public. In 'Madame! attend Monsieur,' I have seen a woman take a shirt in one hand, and a shift in the [-38-] other, and, standing in the very centre of the stage, walk up to the float, deliberately put the two together, then with a wild shriek, etc ;" and here the writer stops short. No one, of course, expects people will stop away from the theatre; hut why cannot the tone of the place be a little higher, and the whole style of the amusement more worthy of a civilised community? Why cannot we have a less liberal display of legs and bosoms, and more generally in the matter of wit? There have always been admirers of good acting. Why should they be ignored, and the stage lowered to the level of the country bumpkin, the imbecile youth of the day, and his female friends?
I FEAR the first impression made upon the mind of the careful observer is
that, as regards amusements, the mass of the people are deteriorating very
rapidly, that we are more frivolous and childish and silly in this way than
our fathers. One has no right to expect anything very intellectual in the way of
amusements. People seek them, and naturally, as a relief from hard work. A
little amusement now and then is a necessity of our common humanity, whether
rich or poor, high or low, sinner or saint; and of course, in the matter of
amusements, we must allow people a considerable latitude [-40-]
according to temperament and age and education, and the circumstances in
which they are placed. In these days no one advocates a Puritanical restraint
and an abstinence from the pleasures of the world. We have a perfect right to
everything that can lighten the burden of life, and can make the heart rejoice.
It was not a pleasant sign of the times, however, when the people found an
amusement in bull-baiting, cock-fighting, boxing, going to see a man hanged;
nor is it a pleasant sign of the times when, night after night, tens of
thousands of our fellow-countrymen are forced into shrieks of laughter by
exhibitions as idiotic as they are indecent. A refined and educated people will
seek amusements of a refining character. If the people, on the contrary, rejoice
in the slang and filthy innuendoes, and low dancing and sensational gymnastics of the music-hall, what are we to
think? The music-hall is quite an invention of
[-41-] modern days. In times not very remote working men were satisfied with going into
a public-house- having there their quantum suff. of less adulterated beer
than they can get now - and sometimes they got into good society at such places.
For instance, we find Dr. Johnson himself a kind of chairman of an ale-house in
Essex Street, Strand, where, for a small fee, you might walk up and see the
Doctor as large as life and hear him talk. At a later day the bar-parlour, or
whatever it might be called, of the public-house, was the place in which men
gathered to talk politics, and to study how they could better themselves. When
Bamford, the Lancashire Radical, came to town in 1817, the working men were
principally to be found discussing politics in all the London public-houses.
One such place he visited and describes: " On first opening the door,"
he writes, "the place seemed dimmed by a suffocating vapour of [-42-]
tobacco curling from the cups of long pipes, and issuing from the mouths of
the smokers in clouds of abominable odour, like nothing in the world more than
one of the unclean fogs of the streets, though the latter were certainly less
offensive and probably less hurtful. Every man would have his half-pint of
porter before him; many would be speaking at once, and the hum and confusion
would be such as gave an idea of there being more talkers than thinkers, more
speakers than listeners. Presently, 'order' would be called, and comparative
silence restored; a speaker, stranger, or citizen would be announced with much
courtesy or compliment. 'Hear, hear, hear,' would follow, with clapping of hands
and knocking of knuckles on the tables till the half- pints danced; then a
speech with compliments to some brother orator or popular statesman; next a
resolution in favour of Parliamentary reform, and a speech to
[-43-] second it; an amendment on some minor point would follow; a seconding of that; a
breach of order by some individual of warm temperament, half-a-dozen would
rise to set him right, a dozen to put them down; and the vociferation and
gesticulation would become loud and confounding." Such things are out of
fashion nowadays. Political discussion requires a certain amount of intellectual
capacity. In London there are but few discussion forums now, and the leading one
is so fearfully ventilated and so heavily charged with the fumes of stale tobacco and beer, that it is only a few who care to attend. I remember when
there were three very close together and well attended. I remember also when we
had a music-hall in the City. It was not a particularly lively place of resort.
We used to have "The Bay of Biscay" and "The Last Rose of
Summer," and now and then a comic song, while the visitor indulged in his
chop [-44-] or beef- steak and the usual amount of alcoholic fluid considered necessary
on such occasions. But now we have changed all that, and the simple-hearted
frequenter of Dr. Johnson's Tavern half-a-century back would be not a little
astonished with the modern music-hall, which differs in toto coelo from the
public-house to which in old-fashioned days a plain concert-room was
A glance at the modern music-hall will show us whether we have improved on our ancestors. In one respect you will observe it is the same. Primarily it is a place in which men and women are licensed to drink. The music is an after-thought, and if given is done with the view to keep the people longer in these places and to make them drink more. Externally the music-hall is generally a public-house. It may have a separate entrance, but it is a public-house all the same, and you will find that you can [-45-] easily go from one to the other. In the music-hall itself the facilities for drink arc on every side. There are generally two or three bars at which young ladies are retained to dispense whatever beverages may be required. In the stalls there are little tables on which the patrons of the establishment place their glasses of grog or beer. A boy comes round with cigars and programmes for sale. All the evening waiters walk up and down soliciting your orders. It is thus to the drink, and not to the payment made for admission, that the proprietor looks to recoup himself for his outlay - and that is considerable. A popular music-hall singer makes his forty pounds a week ; not, however, by singing at one place all the week, but by rushing from one to the other, and the staff kept at any music-hall of any pretensions is considerable. Internally, the music-hall is arranged as a theatre - with its stage, orchestra, pit, galleries, and boxes.
[-46-] "Don't you think," said the manager of one of the theatres most warmly patronised by the working classes, to a clerical friend of mine, "don't you think I am doing good in keeping these people out of the public-houses all night?"
My clerical friend was compelled to yield a very reluctant assent. In the case of the music-hall nothing of the kind can be said in extenuation. It is only a larger and handsomer and more attractive kind of drinking shop. In one respect it may be said to have an advantage. Mostly of a night, about the bars of common public-houses and gin-palaces, there are many unfortunate women drinking either by themselves or with one another, or with their male companions. In the music-hall "the unfortunate female" element - except in the more central ones, where they swarm like wolves or eagles in search of their prey - is absent, or, at any rate, not perceptible.
[-47-] The workman takes there his wife and family, and the working man the young woman with whom he keeps company. There can be no harm in that? you say. I am not quite sure. Let me give one case as an illustration of many similar which have come under my own observation.
A girl one evening went with a friend, an omnibus conductor, to a music-hall. She was well plied with drink, which speedily took an effect on her brain, already affected by the gas and glare, and life and bustle of the place. The girl was a fine, giddy, thoughtless girl of the maid-of-all-work order. In the morning when she awoke she found herself in a strange room with her companion of the preceding night. What was the result? She dared not go back to her place. She was equally afraid to go home. I need not ask the reader to say what became of her. Let him question [-48-] the unfortunate women who crowd the leading thoroughfares of a night how they came to be what they are. It is a fact, I believe, that no censorship is applied to music-hall performances, and that the only censorship is that of the audience. The audience, he it remembered, begins to drink directly the doors are opened, and remains drinking all the time till they are closed ; and you may be sure that in a mob of two, or sometimes, as is the case, three thousand people, that the higher is the seasoning and the lower the wit, and the more abundant the double entendre, the greater is the applause, and the manager, who sits in an arm-chair at the back of the orchestra and in front of the audience, takes note of that. In the days of the Kembles, Mrs. Butler notes how the tendency of actors was not so much to act well as to make points and bring down the house. Especially does she deplore Braham's sing-[-49-]ing as much to be censured in this respect, and as unworthy of his high powers and fame. In the music-hall this lower style of acting and singing becomes a necessity. The people go to be amused, and the actor must amuse them. If he can stand on his head and sing, immense would be the applause. If he is unequal to this, he must attempt something equally absurd, or he must have dogs and monkeys come to his aid; and perhaps after all he will find himself outrivalled by a Boundiing Brother or a wonderful trapeze performer. If the music-hall proprietor in a northern city had prevailed on Peace's mistress, Miss Thompson, to have appeared on his stage, what a fortune he would have made.
The other night I went into one of the largest of our music-halls, not a hundred miles away from what was once Rowland Hill's Chapel. There must have been more than three thousand people present. Not [-50-] a seat was to be had, and there was very little standing room. I paid a shilling for admission, and was quite surprised to see how entirely the shilling seats or standing places were filled with working men, many of whom had their wives and sweethearts with them. The majority, of course, of the audience was made up of young men, who, in the course of the evening spent at least another shilling in beer and "baccy." In these bad times, when people in the middle ranks of life are in despair at the hard prospect before them, here were these working men spending their two hundred pounds a night at the least at this music-hall.
When I managed to squeeze my way in it was about the hour of ten, when men who have to get up early to work ought to be in bed. The performances were in full swing, and the enthusiasm of the audience, sustained and stimulated by refreshment, [-51-] was immense. A female or two were the worse for liquor, but otherwise by that time the intoxicating stage had not been gained. After some very uninteresting bicycling by riders in curious dress, a man disguised as a nigger sang a lot of low doggerel about his "gal." In the course of his singing he stopped to tell us that his "gal" had a pimple and that he liked pimples, as they were signs of a healthy constitution. He then, amidst roars of laughter, pretended to catch a flea. He liked fleas, he said; a flea came in the daylight and looked you in the face like a man as it bit you; but a bug he hated. It crawled over your body in the dark and garroted you. Then he went on to speak in a mock-heroic style of the rights of women. He "spotted" some naughty ones present - an allusion received with laughter. He loved them all, male or female, married or single, and advised all [-52-] the young men present to get married as soon as possible and then hang themselves. Ballet dancing of the usual character followed, and I came away.
It is said a paper recently sent a special correspondent to describe a London music-hall; the description was refused admission into the paper on the ground of indecency, and I can well believe it.
As to the profit made by the music-halls there can be no doubt. Take for instance the London Pavilion. I find the following newspaper paragraph: Sir Henry A. Hunt, C.B., the arbitrator in the case of the London Pavilion Music Hall, has sent in his award. M. Loibl claimed £147,000 for the freehold and goodwill, the building being required for the new street from Piccadilly to Oxford Street. The award is £109,300. The freehold cost M. Loibl £8,000, and his net profits in 1875 were £10,978; in 1876, £12,083; and in 1877, [-53-] £14,189. Let me give another illustration. When the proprietor of Evans' Supper Rooms was refused his license, his loss was estimated at £10,000 per annum. It surely evidently is more ready to pay liberally for the gratification of its senses, than for the promotion of its virtues.
MORE ABOUT MUSIC-HALLS.
THE journeyman engineer tells us one day as he was walking along with a mate
in the country, he spoke of the beauty of the surrounding scenery and of the
magnificent sight which met their eyes. "Oh, blow the sights of the
scenery," said his companion, "the sight for me is a public-house." It is the same everywhere. I was once travelling in a third-class
carriage from Newry to Belfast, when I heard the most atrocious exclamations
from a party of young men seated at the other end, all offering to break each
other's heads in the name of the Holy Father. On my intimating that it was a
[-55-] pity young men should thus get into that state to a respectable farmer by my
side, his only reply was, "Sure, what's the good of a drop of drink if it
don't raise something?" Once upon a time I spent a Sunday in a little
village inn in North Wales. To my disgust there stumbled into the little parlour
a young man, dressed respectably, who had evidently been heavily drinking. As he
lay there with his stertorous snore, all unconscious of the wonder and the
beauty of the opening day, it seemed to me that it was a sad misuse of the term
to say, as his friends would, that he had been in search of amusement. As a
reverend divine took his seat in a train the other day there stumbled into it a
couple of young fellows, one with his face very much bruised and cut about - who
soon went off to sleep - while his companion explained to the minister that they
had both of them been enjoying themselves. In the more densely populated and poorer districts
[-56-] of the metropolis there is an immense deal of this kind of enjoyment.
To see the people enjoying themselves, I went the other night down the Whitechapel and Commercial Road district. As I turned the corner of Brick Lane I asked a tradesman of the better class if he could direct me to a very celebrated music-hall in that neighbourhood. "It is over that way," said he with a strong expression of disgust. "It's a regular sink of iniquity," he added. As I was not aware of that, I merely intimated my regret that it was so largely patronised by working men, and that so much money was thus wasted, which might be applied to a better purpose. "Well, you see," said my informant, "they don't think of that - they know there is the hospital for them when they are ill." On my remarking that I was going to Brick Lane prior to visiting the music-hall, he intimated that I had better button up my coat, and when [-57-] I said that when out on such expeditions as I was then engaged in, I never carried a watch and chain worth stealing, he remarked that if the people did not rob me, at any rate they might knock me down. However, encouraged by his remarks that the people were not so bad as they were, I went on my way.
Apparently the improvement of which my informant spoke was of a very superficial character. Coming from the Aldgate Station at the early hour of six, I found every drinking shop crammed, including the gaudy restaurant at the station, and descending to the filthiest gin-palace, there were the men drinking, and if they were not drinking they were loafing about in groups of by no means pleasant aspect. When at a later hour I returned, the sight was still sadder, as hordes of wild young girls, just emancipated from the workshop, were running up and down the streets, [-58-] shrieking and howling as if mad. As most of the shops were then closed, the streets seemed almost entirely given over to these girls and their male friends. In the quarter to which I bent my steps the naval element was predominating, and there were hundreds of sailors cruising, as it were, up and down, apparently utterly unconscious that their dangers at sea were nothing to those on land. Men of all creeds and of all nations were to be encountered in search of amusement, while hovered around some of the most degraded women it is possible to imagine - women whose bloated faces and forms were enough to frighten anyone, and to whom poor Jack, in a state of liquor, is sure to become a prey. To the low public-houses of this district dancing-rooms are attached, and in them, as we may well suppose, vice flourishes and shows an unabashed front. I must say it was with a feeling of relief that I found a harbour [-59-] of refuge in the music-hall. Compared with the streets, I must frankly confess it was an exchange for the better. On the payment of a shilling I was ushered by a most polite attendant into a very handsome hall, where I had quite a nice little leather arm-chair to sit in, and where at my ease I could listen to the actors and survey the house. The place was by no means crowded, but there was a good deal of the rough element at the back, to which, in the course of the evening's amusement, the chairman had more than once to appeal. From the arrangements made around me, it was evident that there was the same provision which I have remarked elsewhere for the drinking habits of the people. There was a side bar at which the actors and actresses occasionally appeared on their way to or from the stage, and affably drank with their friends and admirers. The other day I happened to hear a thief's confession, and [-60-] what do you think it was? That it was his mingling with the singers off the stage that had led to his fall. He was evidently a smart, clever, young fellow, and had thought it a sign of his being a lad of spirit to stand treat to such people. Of course he could not afford it, and, of course, he had a fond and foolish mother, who tried to screen him in his downward career. The result was he embezzled his employer's money, and, when that was discovered, imprisonment and unavailing remorse were the result. To the imagination of raw lads there is something wonderfully attractive in the music-hall singer, as ,with hat on one side and in costume of the loudest character, and with face as bold as brass, he sings, "Slap, bang! here we are again!" or takes off some popular theatrical performer or some leading actor on a grander stage. On the night in question one singer had the audacity to assume as much as [-61-] possible the character of the Premier of our day, not forgetting the long gray coat by which the Earl of Beaconsfleld is known in many quarters. Comic singing, relieved by dancing, seemed to be the staple amusement of the place, and when one of the female performers indecently elevated a leg, immense was the applause. All the while the performances were going on, the waiters were supplying their customers with drink, and one well-dressed woman - evidently very respectable - managed a couple of glasses of grog in a very short while. But mostly the people round me were quiet topers, who smoked and drank with due decorum, and who seemed to use the place as a kind of club, where they could sit comfortably for the night, and talk and listen, and smoke or drink, at their pleasure. It is hardly necessary to say that the majority of the audience were young men. The attendance was not [-62-] crowded. Perhaps in the east of London the pressure of bad times is being felt. The mock Ethiopian element, next to the dancing, was the feature of the evening's amusements which elicited the most applause. It is a curious thing that directly a man lampblacks his face and wears a woollen wig, and talks broken English, he at once becomes a popular favourite.
A few nights after I found myself in quite another part of London - in a music hall that now calls itself a theatre of varieties. It was a very expensive place, and fitted up in a very costly manner. You enter through an avenue which is made to look almost Arcadian. Here and there were little rustic nooks in which Romeo and Juliet would make love over a cheerful glass. Flunkeys as smart almost as Lord Mayors' footmen took your orders. It was late when I put in an appearance, [-63-] and it was useless to try and get a seat. It was only in the neighbourhood of the refreshment bar that I could get even standing room, and being a little taller than some of the stunted half-grown lads around me, could look over their heads to the gaudy and distant stage. I did not hear much of the dialogue. Old Astley, who years before had lived in that neighbourhood, and knew the art of catering for the people, used to remark when the interest of the piece seemed to flag, "Cut the dialogue and come to the 'osses," and here the stage direction evidently was to set the ballet-girls at work, and it seemed to me that the principal aim of the piece was to show as many female arms and legs as was possible. I am not of Dr. Johnson's opinion that it is indecent for a woman to expose herself on the stage, but I was, I own, shocked with the heroine of the evening, whose too solid form in the lime-[-64-]light - which was used, apparently, to display all her beauties - was arrayed in a costume, which, at a distance, appeared to be of Paradisaical simplicity, more fitted for the dressing-room of the private mansion than for the public arena of the stage. There was, I doubt not, animated dialogue, and the swells in the stalls, I daresay, enjoyed it; but for my shilling I could see little, and hear less; and weary of the perpetual flourish of female arms and legs, I came away. What I did most distinctly hear were the orders at the bar for pale ale and grog, and the cry of the waiter, as he pushed on with his tray well filled, of "By your leave," to the crowd on each side - all of whom had, of course, a cigar or short pipe in their mouths, and were evidently young men of the working class. That evening's amusement, I am sure, must have taken some two or three hundred pounds out of their pockets. But I saw [-65-] no one the worse for liquor, though the public-houses all round were crowded with drunken men and women; for the morrow was Sunday, and who can refuse the oppressed and over-taxed working man his right to spend all his week's wages on a Saturday night?
One night last winter I was at a meeting held in the Mission Hall, Little Wild Street, at which some three hundred thieves had been collected together to supper. One of them, who had seen the evil of his ways, said: "The greatest curse of my life was the music-halls. They have been the means of my ruin;" and the way in which that speech was received by his mates evidently testified to the fact that the experience of many was of a similar character. I said to him afterwards that I knew the music hall to which he referred, and that I had calculated that on an average each man spent there two shillings a night. "Oh [-66-] sir," was the reply, "I spent a great deal more than that of a night." If so, I may assume that he spent as much as four shillings a night - and that, as the place was his favourite haunt after office-hours, he was there every night in the week, this would make an expenditure of one pound four shillings - a sum, I imagine, quite as much as his wages as a poor clerk. What wonder is it that the silly youth became a thief, especially when the devil whispers in his ear that theft is easy and the chance of detection small? The one damning fact which may be charged against all music-halls is that their amusements are too high in price, and that every device is set to work to make people spend more money than the cost of the original admission. In the theatre you may sit- and most people do sit all the evening - without spending a penny. In the music-hall a man does not [-67-] like to do that. He drinks for the sake of being sociable, or because the waiter solicits him, or because he has drunk already and does not like to leave off, or because he meets doubtful company at the bar, or because the burden of every song is that he must be a "jolly pal," and that he must enjoy a cheerful glass. I can remember when at one time the admission fee included the cost of a pint of beer or some other fluid. Now drink is an extra, and as the proprietor of the music-hall, to meet the competition all round him, has to beautify his hall as much as possible, and to get what he calls the best available talent, male or female- whether in the shape of man or ass, or dog or elephant, or monkey - he is of course put to a considerable extra expense; and that of course he has to get out of the public the best way he can. No one loves to work for nothing, and leaat of all the proprietor of a music-hall.
[-68-] Talking of "pals" and "a cheerful glass" reminds inc of a scene which made me sick at the time, and which I shall not speedily forget. On the night of the Lord Mayor's Show, I entered a music-hall in the north of London - in a region supposed to be eminently pious and respectable, and not far from where Hick's Hall formerly stood. As I saw the thousands of people pushing into the Agricultural Hall, to see the dreary spectacle of an insane walking match, and saw another place of amusement being rapidly filled up, I said to myself: "Well, there will be plenty of room for me in the place to which I am bound;" and it was with misgiving that I paid the highest price for admission - one shilling - to secure what I felt, under the circumstances, I might have had at a cheaper rate. Alas! I had reckoned without my host. The hour for commencing had not arrived, and yet the place was full to over-[-69-]flowing. Mostly the audience consisted of young men. As usual, there were a great many soldiers. It is wonderful the number of soldiers at such places; and the spectator would be puzzled to account for the ability of the private soldier thus to sport his lovely person did not one remember that he is usually accompanied by a female companion, generally a maid-of-all-work of the better class, who is too happy to pay for his aristocratic amusements, as she deems them, on condition that she accompanies him in the humble capacity of a friend. Soldiers, I must do them justice to say, are not selfish, and scorn to keep all the good things to themselves. As soon as they find a neighbourhood where the servant "gal" is free with her wages, they generally tell each other of the welcome fact, and then the Assyrian comes down like the wolf on the fold.
Well, to continue my story. On the [-70-] night, and at the place already referred to, they were a very jolly party - so far as beer and "baccy" and crowded company and comic singing were concerned. They had a couple of Brothers, who were supposed to be strong in the delineation of Irish and German character, but as their knowledge of the language of the latter seemed simply to be confined to the perpetually exclaiming "Yah, yah!" I had misgivings as to their talents in that respect, which were justified abundantly in the course of the evening. Dressed something in the style of shoe-blacks, and wearing wooden shoes, which made an awful noise when they danced, the little one descries his long-lost elder brother, to whom his replies are so smart and witty that the house was in a roar of laughter, in which I did not join, as I had heard them twice already.
After they had finished we had a disgustingly stout party, who was full of praise [-71-] of all conviviality, and who, while he sang, frisked about the stage with wonderful vivacity and with as much grace as a bull in a china-shop, or a bear dancing a hornpipe. As he sang, just behind me there was all at once a terrible noise; the chairman had to call out "Order," the spectators began howling, "Turn him out;" the singer had to stop, the roughs in the gallery began to scream and cheer, and the bars were for a wonder deserted. In so dense a crowd it was so difficult to see anything, that it was not at once that I discovered the cause of the disorder; but presently I saw in one of the little pews, into which this part of the house was divided (each pew having a small table in the middle for the liquor) a couple of men quarrelling. All at once the biggest of them - a very powerful fellow of the costermonger type - dealt his opponent - a poor slim, weedy lad of the common shop-boy [-72-] species - a tremendoud blow. The latter tried to retaliate, and struggled across the table to hit his man, but he merely seemed to me to touch his whiskers, while the other repeated his blow with tremendous effect. In vain the sufferer tried to get out of the way; the place was too crowded, and with a stream of blood flowing from his nose he fell, or would have fallen, to the earth had not some of the bystanders dragged him a few yards from his seat. Then as he lay by me drunk, or faint, or both, unable to sit up or to move, with the blood pouring down his clothes and staining the carpet all round, I saw, as the reader can well believe, a commentary on the singer's Bacchanalian song of a somewhat ironical character; but business is business, and at the music-hall it will not do to harrow up the feelings of the audience with such sad spectacles. Perfectly insensible, the poor lad was carried out, [-73-] while a constable was the means of inducing his muscular and brutal-looking opponent to leave the hall. Order restored, the stout party bounded on to the stage, and the hilarity of the evening - with the exception of here and there a girl who, evidently not being used to such places, was consequently frightened and pale and faint for awhile - was as great as ever. The comic singer made no reference to the unfortunate incident; all he could do was to say what he had got by heart, and so he went on about the cheerful glass and the fun of going home powerfully refreshed at an early hour in the morning, and much did the audience enjoy his picture of the poor wife waiting for her husband behind the door with a poker, assisting him upstairs with a pair of tongs, and after she had got him sound asleep meanly helping herself to what cash remained in his pocket.
[-74-] For my part, I candidly own I felt more inclined to sympathise with the wife than with her husband; but the music-hall is bound to stand up for drinking, for it is by drinking that it lives. If people cared for music and the drama, they would go to the theatre; but that declines, and the music-hall flourishes. Astley's Theatre is a case in point. That has been an old favourite with the public. At one time, I should imagine, few places paid better - does not Ducrow sleep in one of the most magnificent monuments in Kensal Green, and did he not make his money at Astley's? - but now there are two flourishing music-halls one on each side of Astley's, and as I write I see one of the proprietors, as a plea why he should be given more time for the payment of a debt, admits that sometimes they lose at Astley's as much as forty pounds a week. If Astley's is to [-75-] be made to pay, evidently the sooner it is turned into a music-hall the better.
Will the London School Boards raise the character of the future public? is a question to be asked but not to be answered in our time. The real fact is that amusements have a deteriorating effect on the character of those who devote themselves to them, and become more frivolous as they become more popular. This is the case, at any rate, as regards music-halls. A gentleman the other day, as we were speaking of one of the most successful of them, said how grieved he was on a visit to it lately to see the generally lowered tone of entertainment. At one time the attempt was made to give the people really good music, and there were selections of operas of first-rate character. Now all that is done away with, and there is nothing but silly comic singing of the poorest kind.
[-76-]In another respect also there has been a deterioration - that is, in the increased sensationalism of the performance. A music-hall audience requires extra stimulus - the appetite becomes palled, and if a leap of fifty feet does not "fetch the public," as Artemus Ward would say, why then, the leap must be made a hundred; and really sometimes the spectacles held up for the beery audience to admire are of the most painful character. I have said that the doubtful female element is not conspicuous in the music-hall - that is the case as regards those on the outskirts of London, but the nearer you approach the West-End the less is that the case; and there is more than one music-hall I could name which is little better than a place of assignation and rendezvous for immoral women, and where you may see them standing at the refreshment bars soliciting a drink from all who pass. Such music-[-77-] halls are amongst the most successful of them all, and the proprietor reaps a golden harvest.
I presume it is impossible to tell the number of our metropolitan music-halls, or to give an idea of the numbers who frequent them, and of the amount of money spent in them during the course of a single night. Apparently they are all well supported, and are all doing well. If you see a theatre well filled, that is no criterion of success. It may be, for aught you know, well filled with paper, but the music-hall is a paying audience, and it is cash, not paper, that is placed in the proprietor's hands. In the east of London I find that both as regards the theatres and music-halls the proprietors have a dodge by means of which they considerably increase their profits, and that is to open a particular entrance a little before the time for admission, and to allow people to [-78-] enter on payment of a small extra fee. It was thus the other night I made my way into a music-hall. I paid an extra two-pence rather than stand waiting half an hour outside in the crowd. Another thing I also learned the other night that must somewhat detract from the reputation of the theatre, considered in a temperance point of view, and that is the drinking customs are not so entirely banished as at first sight we may suppose. The thousands who fill up the Vic., and the Pavilion in Whitechapel, perhaps do not drink quite as much as they would had they spent the evening at a music-hall, but they do drink, nevertheless, and generally are provided with a bottle of liquor which they carry with them, with other refreshment, down into the pit, or up where the gods live and lie reclined.
If it is impossible to reckon the number of music-halls in London, it is equally impossible [-79-] to denote the public-houses with musical performances. In Whitechapel the other night I discovered two free-and-easies on my way to one of the music-halls of that district. They were, in reality, music-halls of a less pretentious character, and yet they advertised outside the grand attractions of a star company within. Prospects may be cloudy, trade may be bad, and, as a slang writer remarks, things all round may be unpromising, but the business of the music-hall fluctuates very little. Enter at any time between nine and ten and you have little chance of a seat, and none whatever of a good place. As to numbers it is difficult to give an idea. Some of the officials are wisely chary in this matter, and. equally so on the subject of profits. The Foresters' Hall in Cambridge Heath Road advertises itself to hold four thousand people, and that does not by any means strike me as one of the largest of the [-80-] music-halls. Last year the entire British public spent £140,000,000, or eight shillings a week for each family, in drink, and the music-halls help off the drink in an astonishing way. As I went into a music-hall last autumn I saw a receipt for £51 as the profit for an entertainment given there on behalf of the Princess Alice Fund, and if the attendance was a little greater, and the profit a little larger than usual, still a fair deduction from £51 for bad nights and slack times will make a pretty handsome total at the end of the year after all. Now and then the music-hall does a little bit of philanthropy in another way, which is sure to be made the most of in the papers. For instance, last year Mr. Fort, of the Foresters' Music Hall, invited some of the paupers from a neighbouring workhouse to spend the evening with him. I daresay he had a good many old customers [-81-]
among the lot, whereupon someone writes in Fun as follows: "The Bethnal Green Guardians showed themselves superior to the Bath Guardians the other day, and in response to the offer of Mr. Fort, proprietor of the Foresters' music-hall, rescinded the resolution prohibiting the paupers from partaking of any amusement other than that afforded within the workhouse walls. So the inmates of the union had a day out, and, we trust, forgot for awhile their sorrows and troubles. It is whispered that, in addition to pleasing the eye and the ear, the promoter of the entertainment presented each of his visitors with a little drop of something of an equally Fort-ified character." I may add that the Foresters' music-hall claims to be a celebrated popular family resort, and that evening I was there the performance was one to which a family might be invited. Of course the family must have a turn for drink. They cannot [-82-] go there without drinking. There is the public-house entrance to suggest drink, the bar at the end of the saloon to encourage it, and the waiters are there expressly to hand it round, and a good- natured man of course does not like to see waiters standing idle, and accordingly gives his orders; and besides, it is an axiom in political economy that the supply creates the demand.
Here are some of the verses I have heard sung with immense applause:
The spiritualists only can work by night,
They keep it dark;
For their full- bodied spirits cannot stand the light,
So they keep it dark;
They profess to call spirits, but I call for rum
And brandy or gin as the best medium
For raising the spirits whenever I'm glum;
But keep it dark.
The utter silliness of many of the songs is shown by the following, "sung with [-83-] immense success," as I read in the programme, by Herbert Campbell:
I've read, of little Jack Homer,
I've read of Jack and Jill,
And old Mother Hubbard,
Who went to the cupboard
To give her poor dog a pill;
But the best is Cowardy Custard,
Who came to awful grief
Through eating a plate of mustard
Without any plate of beef.
Cowardy Cowardy Custard, oh dear me,
Swallowed his father's mustard, oh dear me-
He swallowed the pot, and he collared it hot;
For, much to his disgust,
The mustard swelled, Cowardy yelled,
Then Cowardy Cowardy bust.
This is supposed, I presume, to be a good song. What are we to think of the
people who call it so? It is difficult to imagine the depth of imbecility thus
reached on the part of singer and hearers, and is a fine illustration of the
influence of beer and "baccy" as regards softening the brain. [-84-]
The music-hall singer degrades his audience. Even when he sings of passing
events he panders as much as possible to the passions and prejudices of the mob.
His words are redolent of claptrap and fury, and are a mischievous element in
the formation of public opinion. Heroes and patriots are not made in music-halls. But rogues and drunkards and
vagabonds - and lazy, listless lives,
destitute of all moral aim. There I are respectable people who go to music-halls
- women as well as men - but they
get little good there. Indeed, it would be a miracle if they did.
But the great fact is that the music-hall makes young men indulge in expensive habits- get into bad company, and commence a career which ends in the jail. Amusement has not necessarily a bad effect, or else it would be a poor look-out for all. It is as much our duty to be merry as it is to be wise. It is the drinking at these [-85-] places that does the mischief. It is that that leads to a low tone of entertainment, and deadens the conscience of the young man who thinks he is enjoying life, and makes the working man forget how the money he squanders away would make his home brighter, and his wife and children happier, and would form a nice fund to be drawn on when necessary on a rainy day. The great curse of the age is extravagant and luxurious living, always accompanied with a low tone of public intelligence and morality and thought. In the present state of society we see that realised in the men and women who crowd our music-halls, and revel in the songs the most improper, and in the dances the most indelicate.
As I write, another illustration of the pernicious influence of music-halls appears in the newspapers. At the Middlesex Sessions, John B. Clarke surrendered to [-86-] his bail on an indictment charging him with attempting to wound his wife, and with having wounded George Marshall, police constable, in the execution of his duty. When Marshall was on duty in Jubilee Street on the night of November 28th, he heard loud cries of "Murder" and "Police," and went to the prisoner's house. He found the prisoner and his wife struggling in the passage, and the wife, seeing him, cried out, "Policeman, he has a knife and has threatened to cut my throat." The police-constable closed with the prisoner and endeavoured to wrest the knife from him, when the prisoner made two stabs at his wife which fortunately missed her, and another stab which cut the hand of Marshall, who succeeded in wresting the knife from the prisoner, and took him to the station. In cross-examination it was elicited that prisoner's wife had gone to a music-hall; that her [-87-] husband, returning home, found her with two or three young men and women sitting together in his parlour; that one of the young men kissed her, and that the prisoner, seeing this, became mad with jealousy, and seized the first thing that came to his hand. A gentleman, in whose employment the prisoner was, gave him an exceptionally high character for more than eighteen years, and expressed his perfect willingness to have him. back into his service and to become security for his good behaviour. The jury convicted the prisoner of causing actual bodily harm, strongly recommending him to mercy, and expressing their belief that he had no intention to wound the policeman. Mr. Prentice said this was a peculiarly sad and painful case. To wound or even obstruct a policeman in the execution of his duty was a serious offence; but looking at all the circumstances of the case, the finding of the [-88-] jury, and their recommendation to mercy, he sentenced him to one month's hard labour, and accepted his employer's surety that he would keep the peace for the next three months. The grand jury commended Marshall for his conduct in the case.
Another thing also may be said. The other evening I was dining with a lawyer with a large police practice, in what may be called, and what really is, a suburb of London. My friend is what may be described as a man of the world, and of course is anything but a fanatic in the cause of temperance. I spoke of a music-hall in his immediate neighbourhood, and said I intended dropping in after dinner. "Well," he said, "the worst of the place is that if we ever have a case of embezzlement on the part of some shop-boy or porter, it is always to be traced to that music-hall. A lad goes there, is led into ex-[-89-]penses beyond his means, thinks it manly to drink and to treat flash women, and one fine morning it is discovered that he has been robbing the till, and is ruined for life."
With these words of an experienced observer, I conclude.